Years upon years of seeing polite society senselessly bearorized have finally taken their toll. Enough, say Jody Leheup, Sebastian Girner and artist Nil Vendrell. The #WarOnBearor begins now.
Written by Jody Leheup & Sebastian Girner
Illustrated by Nil Vendrell
Colored by Mike Spicer
Lettered by Dave Lanphear
After being betrayed by the bears that raised him, the legendary Shirtless Bear-Fighter wanders the forest he’s sworn to protect, fistfighting bears, eating flapjacks, and being the angriest man the world has ever known! When wild-eyed, super-strong bears attack the citizens of Major City, Shirtless ventures into the human world to do what he does best…PUNCH THOSE BEARS IN THE FACE! But all is not as it seems. Someone is manipulating Shirtless…and only by confronting the demons of his past can Shirtless hope to save his future! A heart-filled, hilarious, tall tale for the ages… you don’t want to miss SHIRTLESS BEAR-FIGHTER!
“He’s just a man,” starts Agent Burke, acting against protocol and going off-grid to saddle the only force capable of stemming the ursine tide of bearorism. “But sometimes God makes a mistake. . . . And makes a man too much of a man.”
In “Shirtless Bear-Fighter!” #1, Nil Vendrell ramps up this fairly apt description about 15 notches. Using fine-lined precision, Vendrell crafts a hirsute mountain who is just surly and rugged enough to believably box bears bare-handed. There’s a beard the size of other characters’ heads, forearms the size of thighs, and staccato detailing that defines pecs and abs you could chop wood on . . . you get the idea.
It doesn’t just stop there, either. In Jody Leheup and Sebastian Girner’s script, we see a child raised by bears to become protector of their woods. Tragedy — of a type familiar to anyone with loving affection for the lone-badass trope so prevalent in ‘80s action flicks — turns him from friend to foe. And as Agent Burke comes calling, he resides as an angry recluse in a bear-house adorned with a patchwork of pelts covering walls, roof and awning.
Leheup, Girner and Vendrell are having a blast. There’s an infectious glee shining through that lets you know no one is taking things the least bit seriously. Well, maybe the characters are. And maybe a little too much so. But that just adds to the charm. Listening to Burke and his partner plead for help, Shirtless sits down to snack on a syrupy stack of flapjacks. When the irritated and impatient partner mistakenly calls them pancakes, Vendrell captures Shirtless’s ferocity at the perceived slight. There’s a feral intensity as he pounds on the table. “She meant ‘flapjacks’ Shirtless! She didn’t know!” Burke cries, trying to reign in his anger. It’s a ridiculous moment, yes. But there’s an underlying logic to Leheup and Girner’s dialogue implying a comfort level between old colleagues. Burke knows exactly what makes Shirtless tick.
And it’s that logic that makes “Shirtless Bear-Fighter!” #1 work so well. Helicopters airlift in several tons of maple syrup and flapjacks as payment. Vendrell illustrates the moment as if it were a drug deal. Shirtless runs a fingertip of syrup across his gums to check for purity, and flips through a stack flapjacks like he’s counting a wad of Benjamins.
Vendrell’s design-sense breaths life to Leheup and Girner’s well-crafted bear puns, while alternating between over-exaggerated facial expressions and staggering moments of impact. A splash page opens the action with a beast the size of a bus rearing up in front of puny animal control officer, spraying a can of ineffectual bear-mace. It’s an awesome introduction to Vendrell’s approach. Relying less on motion, he focuses more on making sure you’re pushed back a step or two from the power of that bear’s roar. So when the brawling starts, you’re going to feel those blows connecting, regardless of whether it’s Shirtless throwing a haymaker or Shirtless getting thrown through a wall. The art-style is much more concerned with capturing force than flow. Dave Lanphear punctuates those points of contact with emphatically block-lettered sound effects. BEAR PUNCH! being a well-used highlight. And all the while, Mike Spicer’s earthy browns and greens give the experience a certain sense that these battles are the ultimate battle between man and nature.Continued below
The interplay between the artists and writers here is so tight that if the words fail to connect with a punchline, then the images are sure to deliver the knockout. For most of “Shirtless Bear-Fighter” #1, our hero could be named Pantsless, as he barrels from one brawl to another bear-naked. Vendrell feigns decency in the artwork by obscuring his crotch with the kind of pixelation last seen on a rerun of Cops. But the censorship is rendered relatively inert by the extended, backwards arching blur as Shirtless slams a four-pawed opponent to the ground with a crushing gut-wrench suplex.
Bear puns and beatdowns, all wrapped in a nudist lumberjack aesthetic – granted, Shirtless does don pants by the end – that’s the currency being traded here. Straight-forward in internal logic and ridiculous in execution, it’s bloody amazing. The energy and enthusiasm on display here ensure this book fully earns that exclamation point in its title. Pop culture is littered with groups of disparate words that seemingly encapsulate all humanity’s best and worst ideas in one phrase. Monkey Knife Fight… Snakes on a Plane… Free Trampoline. Jody Leheup, Sebastian Girner and Nil Vendrell are well on their way to adding Shirtless Bear-Fighter to that illustrious cannon.
Final Verdict: 8.5 – BEAR PUNCH!