“He’s just a man, Agent Silva. But sometimes God makes a mistake… and makes a man… too much of a man.”
When my brother recommended Shirtless Bear-Fighter! to me (and yes, the exclamation point is absolutely in the title, and is 100% necessary), I automatically knew it was right up my alley. The name alone was enough to make me chuckle, and the first couple of pages were enough to convince me that yes, I did indeed need this graphic novel. The book itself reads like a Hollywood action movie with the dumbest premise imaginable.
It would be absolutely insufferable if it was played anything but straight.
From the first couple of pages establishing the threat, to the introductions of both Agents Burke and Silva as well as Shirtless (yeah… that’s his name), it’s clear that the gags are ONLY gags to the reader. It would have been very, very easy to take the standard action hero tropes and make a meta comic book that mocks them. However, writers Jody Leheup and Sebastian Girner relies on the fact that the reader KNOWS they are tropes and cliches and gleefully, gloriously plays with them to hilarious effect.
Shirtless Bear-Fighter! is a man who prefers to be alone. After being betrayed by the bears who raised him as one of their own, he retreats into his bearskin cabin where he protects the forest from anyone who would dare try to harm them. Fist-fighting bears, eating flapjacks (and don’t you DARE call them pancakes in his presence) and being pretty much a stereotypical angry man, Agents Burke and Silva are tasked with hiring him to stop the sudden appearance of super-strong, wild-eyes bears, who are terrifying people in the city.
After declining their payment of two tons of flapjacks and maple syrup, Shirtless Bear-Fighter! decides to join the fight out of a sense of deep, insane rage against bears. As the story progresses, it blossoms from a single attack by two bears in the city into a huge, insane, over-the-top war between Shirtless, bears, and the main antagonist, which is too hilarious (and stupid) to spoil. Every page, every frame reads like the script of a big budget Hollywood movie, complete with explosions, multiple plot twists, and a huge menace which threatens not only Shirtless, but an entire industry.
Nil Vendrell‘s art style is wonderfully showcased here, with everything from Shirtless’… unforgettable entrance, to the huge final fight, to the aftermath being done cleanly, colorfully, and full of charm. From beginning to end, this sadly brief series reads like something Edgar Wright or Michael Bay would love to get their hands on.
But for the love of God, don’t let Michael Bay NEAR it.
If you indulge yourself by reading only one graphic novel this year, do yourself a favor and choose this one.