One of the chief gripes that a lot of folks who’ve fallen away from comics over the years have is that the medium just takes itself way too fucking seriously these days — and I have to admit that, looking over much of the output that comes from the “Big Two” (as well as a number of independent publishers), these past (and hopefully future) readers do have something of a point. A quick glance through the pages of almost any randomly-chosen five or six “floppies” on the racks of your LCS are enough to make anyone think that “dark, somber, and brooding” is the order of the day in what were once thought of as “funnybooks.” Which isn’t to say that many of these (overly?) serious titles aren’t involving, interesting, smart, and maybe even fun, in their own way — but goddamnit, whatever happened to stupid fun?
Well, it may be in short supply, but I’m pleased to say it’s not entirely extinct altogether thanks to writers Jody Leheup and Sebastian Girner, artist Nil Vendrell, and colorist Mike Spicer, the “brains” behind the new overtly outrageous, over-the-top Image Comics mini-series Shirtless Bear Fighter!, who have wisely chosen to ask — and answer — the question “What would happen if Grizzly Addams ingested a dozen tabs of bad acid and picked a fight with Yogi Bear? And did it all when he was naked?”
The particulars, for those who must know them: a major city called — uhhhmmm — Major City is under attack by ferocious, apparently-mind-controlled bears who kill people and wipe their asses against buildings. Nobody knows who or what is commanding the creatures, but never fear — the FBI has a plan. They’re going to head out into the wilderness and persuade a perpetually-naked mountain man who was actually raised by bears (before turning on them and becoming their mortal enemy) to come into town and deal with the problem. He’s got all the tools you need for the job: super-strength, a ferocious attitude, and more body hair than his opponents. It proves to be a tough sell, though — even a lifetime supply of flapjacks (don’t call ’em pancakes!) and maple syrup can’t persuade our reluctant hero at first, but a jog down memory lane combined with insults to his manhood end up providing the impetus that outright bribery can’t, and soon enough he’s taken to the skies in his fur-covered “Bear-Plane” and even put on some pants! Major City, here we come!
Some subplots make their presence known at the very end of this first issue — it seems the combined forces of a skeevy, gentrifying real estate developer and a pig-faced demon known as the Hillbilly Warlock are “guiding” the possessed bears — but this is definitely “shut your brain off and go with the flow” material all the way, as it damn well should be. Vendrell’s cartoony art, Spicer’s bright, vibrant, right-outta-Saturday-morning colors, and Andrew Robinson’s tone-setting cover (side note — there are also a couple of variants, but weirdly enough Image isn’t doing a “Pride Month” cover for this one, even though they are for most of the rest of their line-up, and you’d think it would be a natural here) seal the deal, not that there was ever too much danger you were going to take a premise this fantastically absurd with anything less than several thousand grains of salt, anyway. Characters are presented in the broadest, most one-dimensional strokes possible, every page presents a new situation that’s flatly (or, in the case of our digitally-obscured protagonist’s phallus, far from flatly) ridiculous on its face, and none of this is meant as a criticism. Quite the reverse, in fact.
I suppose the anti-animal cruelty crowd (which includes yours truly, under normal circumstances) could find something to bitch about here, if they really have nothing better to do with their time, but the violence unleashed against our four-legged friends in this book is a lot more Looney Tunes than it is Ruggero Deodato. You needn’t read any hidden subtexts into Shirtless Bear-Fighter! simply because, hey — there are none. Man vs. nature is a story as old as time, it’s true; but when you filter even the most hackneyed premise through the minds of creators this talented and this unglued, it definitely has a way of feeling fresh, new, and vibrant — as well as garishly, gleefully, and gloriously idiotic.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s get stupid!