This week, prebear (thank you, Taimur Dar, for the excellent bear pun) yourselves before you head to your local comic shop because it’s the return of the
biggest, and sometimes smallest, bearror in the universe! Not sure yet if the absurdist humor of Shirtless Bear-Fighter is for you, well then, bear down for this review because San Diego’s very own local bear fighter (yes, folx, that’s me) has penned a review of Major City’s Shirtless Bear-Fighter 2 #1 because no one else is more qualified than me to write this review other than Animal Control Dave. (After all, my credentials include laughing at the word “duty” in at least half of my torts classes. I think I appreciate absurdism when I see it.)
The following review contains mild spoilers for Shirtless Bear-Fighter 2 #1.
Shirtless Bear-Fighter 2 #1
Writer: Jody Leheup
Artist: Nil Vendrell
Colors: Michael Spicer
Letters: Dave Lanphear with Troy Peteri
Editor: Sebastian Girner
Production Designer: Erika Schantz
Published by: Image Comics
I have a go-to list of gift-able floppies, trades, and graphic novels (some people on my list really care about the distinction), and Shirtless Bear-Fighter, Vol. 1, has been on it since 2017. What can I say there are many fans of absurdist humor in my life. Hell, I live in a town with a population of 1,500 people, and more than one of my neighbors has asked me if I wrestle bears (because of my propensity to wear fluffy brown coats), so as a “bear fighter” myself, it only seems appropriate to give this comic as a gift to my loved ones. Whenever I gift SBF, each new reader offers a new perspective, and I get to bond over flapjacks and laugh about evil toilet mechs; it’s a bearrel full of fun.
The absurd premise of the first volume of SBF is there is a shirtless (and sometimes commando) man who bears raised because his human parents left him in the forest as a baby. However, after SBF’s adopted brother, Brother Bear, betrayed him and murdered his lover, he became a bear puncher instead of a bear lover—at least for a little while. He eventually has to team up with his bearthen to fight an EVIL wipes company because wipes companies are always EVIL (think Hawthorne Wipes from Community).
So, needless to say, when Image Comics announced another series was coming, I could bearly contain my excitement: soon, there would be another volume to gift to everyone whose already received the first. And because the first issue of Shirtless Bear-Fighter 2 slapped, it looks like more flapjacks and bonding are in my future!
In case I wasn’t clear enough in my first couple of paragraphs, I’ve been following SBF since Dave was with Major City Animal Control and Shirtless bear-punched bear-naked, so admittedly, I probably know the first volume better than most readers. From the very first panel, I knew I was back in the SBF universe. In issue #1, Animal Control Dave is back to provide exposition, sell Grateful Gummies out of his van, and remind readers that edibles may enhance their reading experience.
However, if you are new to the series, the first issue does a good job of catching readers up on Shirtless Bear-Fighter‘s first volume so that they don’t have to read it before SBF 2.
The basic premise of Shirtless Bear-Fighter 2 #1 is Shirtless has joined the Fuzz so that he can make up for his past mistakes of punching bears who didn’t deserve it by punching evil bears who do deserve it. However, when killer gummy bears attack Major City, Shirtless is unexpectedly confronted with his past… and Lawyer Bear, and Ursa Major, and Bearmuda (but you’ll just have to read the comic to get those references).
The story begins with Gummy-Geddon. Frankly, I think that’s fair. This year, 2022, marks the centenary Haribo Gobldbears, the world’s first gummy bears, which means that people have been murdering the poor things for a looooooong time.
I remember the first time I learned about capital punishment very distinctly. Although I can’t remember the book we were reading in class at the time, it included a grisly scene with the ancient penalty for treason in England: drawing and quartering. The full punishment involves several steps, but what stuck with me for a long time was the live disemboweling, beheading, and quartering (accomplished by tying each limb to a different horse and then spurring them in opposite directions). From then on, I was responsible for drawing and quartering many Gummy Bears (and Teddy Grahams). Uh, sorry, not sorry? Gummy-Geddon is my kind of absurdist fun.
While I’m on the topic of pursuing the enjoyment of comics, what I most admire about Shirtless Bear-Fighter is its sense of fun. The reports from C2E2’s “Spotlight on Chris Claremont” panel, which seemed to be Chris Claremont‘s hour-plus long diatribe on how comics should be fun again—thus, implying he’s the Brit who’s up to the challenge—still has me thinking about what makes a story fun, anyway? And with Shirtless Bear-Fighter‘s return, it’s worth asking, “What is fun, and how is it defined? What does fun mean to me?”
I don’t seek to answer all of that here because it would be impossible. “Fun” doesn’t have a clear scientific definition and encompasses many concepts: consumer psychology, likes vs. dislikes, personal enjoyment, fulfillment, color, and more. To try and get a working definition of it for the purposes of this review, I took to the Internet. When I was an RA, I learned about the importance of literature searches, so I began my quest into the science of what makes something fun by pounding the bearboard. I started by searching the phrase “psychology of fun,” but basically only discovered research on consumer psychology of fun (not really what I wanted, but it will do).
There is surprisingly little research on the consumer psychology of fun, both the experience and its main psychological drivers in marketplace settings (which includes the purchase and enjoyment of comic books). In 2020, Columbia University Doctor of Philosophy in Business candidate Tae Seok Oh penned a dissertation, “The Consumer Psychology of Fun,” that outlined two psychological pillars of consumer fun: (1) hedonic engagement and (2) a sense of liberation. The dissertation research shows that “fun is an experience of liberating engagement, a temporary release from psychological restriction via a hedonically engaging activity.”
In comic industry terms, the dissertation includes a lot of interesting information, but for the purposes of this review… Well, “fun” can be defined as something that liberates our minds from our psychological restrictions (e.g., nagging thoughts of the day, depression, etc.) and engages us in the story, even for a short time. Sometimes all I want is a comic imbued with JOY, and Shirtless Bear-Fighter 2 was significantly more absurd than the first (which had some anti-establishment elements), heightening the elements of fun present in the previous run.
Hey, I don’t know about others, but at least it’s easy to write a fun story for SD’s SBF, just include a tardigrade. (Yes, SBF 2 has a tardigrade fight. And in case you’re wondering why a book called Shirtless Bear-Fighter includes a tardigrade fight, it’s because they are also known as nature’s adorable water bears—and they live EVERYWHERE on Earth and in science fiction. “They look like gummy bears with four pairs of legs, and they bumble around among the algae clumps,” says the University of North Carolina’s Tom Sowders.)
In case you are wondering if Shirtless still has a giant cock, 1000% YES.
Published by Image Comics, Shirtless Bear-Fighter 2 #1 is available now.