Review – Shirtless Bear-Fighter! #1 (Image Comics)

Publisher: Image Comics
Story: Jody Leheup, Sebastian Girner
Art: Nil Vendrell, Mike Spicer
Release Date: 21st June 2017

Abandoned in the woods and raised by bears, the enigmatic wild man known only as “Shirtless” devoted his life to protecting his bear brethren from the outside world.  However, when he found himself subsequently betrayed by those very same bears, he swore a furious oath of ursine vengeance.  So when super-strong, glowing-eyed bears attack a heavily populated US city, the government has no choice but to turn to the only man they know can get the job done.

Created by Jody Leheup, Sebastian Girner and Nil Vendrell, Shirtless Bear-Fighter! is a glorious mish-mash of genres, with generous nods to classic 80s action movie excess along with some genuine laugh out loud moments and a real B-Movie feel.  It’s a curious blend that could run the risk of coming across a little cheap or broad in less confident hands, but the trio – alongside colourist Mike Spicer and letterer Dave Lanphear – manage to keep things just the right side of tacky, making for a thoroughly enjoyable opening chapter.

Leheup and Girner handle the writing duties, packing the dialogue with gags and deadpan humour aplenty.  Shirtless’s back story is intentionally outlandish, as is his ‘wild man’ existence which sees him roaming the woods, protecting hapless visitors from bear attacks and dispatching the beasts with his trademark fists while his (thankfully pixelated) junk sways in the breeze.  There are some great details along the way, such as Shirtless’s bear-skin cabin and – as can be seen below – his Bear Plane(!), and it’s this attention to detail that really makes this first issue as enjoyable as it is.

Vendrell’s artwork is a thing of beauty in places, with a slick, dynamic style and some great action moments, with one particularly awesome German Suplex (bearplex?) serving as my personal highlight.  Spicer’s colours keep things bright and lively throughout, and the pair collaborate to provide an energetic, fast-moving aesthetic that keeps the pages turning while really nailing the visual comedy beats along the way.

Dave Lanphear’s lettering is also hugely important in making this first issue work as well as it does, from the fantastic, in-you-face “bear punch!” sound effects to one particular moment which may very well be the best use of a ‘slap’ effect that I’ve ever seen.

Honestly, this is a huge amount of fun, and while it may initially seem like little more than a flimsy premise built to support an undeniably catchy title, I can guarantee that there’s a hell of a lot more to this series than shirtless bear-punching (although there is rather a lot of that, admittedly).  This first issue sets the scene in all its glory, but the subsequent issues dig a lot deeper into the meat of the story, and while it’s not quite a gritty, hard-hitting and nuanced character study, it’s definitely a lot deeper than your initial impressions might suggest.

Bold, lively and utterly hilarious at times, this series is pretty much the most fun you can have with your shirt off and without actually having to go out and punch a bear yourself.  Highly recommended for fans of action movie excess, witty dialogue and bear-themed puns.  Which I’m assuming is all of us, right?

Rating: 4.5/5.

If you want to find out more about SHIRTLESS BEAR-FIGHTER, make sure to check out our interview with series co-writers Jody Leheup and Sebastian Girner by CLICKING HERE.

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ceejThe writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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