Advance Review: Shirtless Bear-Fighter #1 (of 5)

What do you do when you start to take comics too seriously?  Where can you go to get some irreverence back in your life?  Who can you turn to in order to remind you why theses books started out as “funnies”?

If you answered with Image Comics  new book Shirtless Bear-fighter, due out June 21st then you have a wisdom beyond your years.

There is a wild man of the forest; a protector if you will.  No-one knows where he came from; no-one really knows how he was raised by the bears; how he became stronger than the mightiest of all the average bears and how he turned away from them as he failed someone in his forest.  Now the bears have learnt from the invasion of man and sought out the bright lights of the big city.  Only one man can save it, you just better hope you don’t run out of flapjacks and never, ever call them pancakes!

Shirtless is almost an amalgamation of a number of characters.  First of, there is his found by the bears akin to Tarzan; just swap out ape for bear and jungle for forest and you will see my point.  Secondly, there is a passing resemblance to “wild man Logan”  from the second Wolverine solo movie.  Finally there are the fights themselves which carry an almost WWE (not to be confused by the WWF – bears do get hurt in this book!) flavour to each bout.

Writers Jody LeHeup and Sebastian Girner have taken the various elements, both in the direction of the story and the dialogue that pretty much covers every base.  Normally, this level of homage is the kind of thing that makes me shake my head in disgust.  But in the capable hand of these two, it feels more like a celebration of the absurdity of some of the more established tropes in fiction as a whole and in comics specifically.  There are any number of clever little asides that adds to the enjoyment of this book.

The art is a true funny book style from Nil Vendrell Pallach, whose characters cavort across the pages in a somewhat haphazard free-style way which bellies the excellent storytelling that is in full farce….sorry, I mean full force.  There is a cartoony, almost loony tune style that melds with the dynamism of action comics.  Colors are provided by Michael Spicer, who delivers a true four-color effect.

For quite a while, Image have been putting out books that eschews the original superhero ideals of the founders of the company.  This is massive credit to Image, who have managed to carve out a niche for their books, most of which I recognise as high quality even if I don’t always enjoy the stories.  With Shirtless, Image have caught my attention with their pastiche of all that has gone before.

Writing – 5 Stars
Art – 5 Stars
Colors – 5 Stars

Story: Jody Leheup, Sebastian Girner
Art: Mike Spicer, Nil Vendrell
Cover: Andrew Robinson
Variant Cover: Andy Suriano, Tom Fowler

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