This week “The War of Jokes and Riddles” kicks off in Batman, and Image introduces us to the Shirtless Bear Fighter!
Batman #25 (DC Comics)
Tom King’s run on Batman has been pretty stellar so far. From introducing new heroes Gotham and Gotham Girl, to showcasing one of the bloodiest Batman vs. Bane fights in years, to Batman proposing to Catwoman, King has pretty much solidified his place as one of the best writers to work on the character. But with the latest arc, “The War of Jokes and Riddles”, he may have outdone himself. There’s a fair amount of hype surrounding this issue, and amazingly the Mikel Janin drawn issue exceeded my expectations. While you won’t get any definite resolution to Batman’s proposal to Catwoman at the end of the last issue, Batman #25 is still one of the best issues in King’s run.
Taking place just a year after Batman’s first appearance in Gotham, Batman #25 finds the Joker in an interesting spot. After a string of bizarre crimes at comedy clubs, movie theaters showing comedy film, and other events that showcase laughter, the police are stuck as to what exactly the Joker wants. Since they’ve had Edward Nigma in custody for the past year, they decide to use his puzzle expertise to help them figure what Joker wants. Nigma of course solves the mystery, but decides to finally spring himself out of the CGPD and head to the Joker himself. Once he meets up with Joker, he explains that Batman has become too predictable, and it’s taken the fun out of the crimes Joker pulls. And since Joker would rather kill Riddler before Riddler kills Batman (and vice versa), Riddler proposes a plan: the two of them should join forces to take down Batman once and for all. Of course, this goes about as well as any other team up with the Joker would, and the titular war begins.
Tom King’s script is squarely focused on Joker and Riddler, and that’s probably a good reason for why this issue works as well as it does. Batman may be our narrator (talking with Catwoman), but we don’t see him for much of the issue. Instead, his narration serves as a great showcase for how much not only he has changed Gotham by becoming the Batman, but also how his villains will forever cast a shadow over the city and its citizens. King does an incredible job of getting inside of these two villains’ heads without overloading us with so much that it ruins their mystique. Not only that, but seeing King play in the “Year One” era of the Batman is simply a lot of fun. It frees Joker and Riddler up from the current continuity in a way that’s very refreshing.
Mikel Janin handled the art duties for the “I Am Suicide” arc of Batman, and while he did a good job on that storyline, he knocks this issue out of the park. His Joker and Riddler are fantastically portrayed, and Janin is able to present both with a larger than life but also down to Earth feel that immediately pulls you into the comic. His art is rendered so well that it’s hard not to think of books like Gotham Central or imagining this as the basis for a solo Batman movie or miniseries event on HBO.
Batman #25 isn’t just another strong issue of Tom King’s run on the character; it might also be the best. It’s certainly my personal favorite, simply because of this stellar premise and execution. The central mystery of what Batman had to do in this war is really interesting, and it’s easy to believe that when all is said and done we may have the next great Batman story.
Shirtless Bear Fighter #1 (Image Comics)
Sometimes you just need a dumb comic book, and Shirtless Bear Fighter is exactly that kind of book. It’s about a guy who’s called “Shirtless Bear Fighter” who fights bears. That’s it. And that’s pretty much all you need. That’s not to say that Shirtless Bear Fighter is bad by any means. The new Image series from Jody LeHeup, Sebastian Girner, and artist Nil Vendrell is the perfect kind of stupid fun that lovingly plays up ideas of masculinity, 80’s action movies, and, well, bears.
LeHeup and Girner’s script is brimming with nods to famous action movies. Hell, you can practically guess where the story is going to go by page 3. But their script is such a loving nod to these over the top stories that it makes for a completely entertaining ride. SBF’s love of flapjacks, beards, and nudity is hilarious, and makes this character instantly entertaining.
Adding to that entertainment is Nil Vendrell’s art, which is brimming with style and character all its own. From the hilarious expressions on the bear’s faces after they get a patented “BEAR PUNCH” to the commitment to the censoring of SBL’s crotch in his many nude scenes, Vendrell’s art is just as integral to the delivery of this book as the script.
Shirtless Bear Fighter is a hilarious comic, and it’s easily one of the most wild and original books I’ve read all year. This is the kind of book that Image excels at. It’s brimming with charm and an off-kilter vibe, and it’s completely hilarious as well. I can’t recommend it enough.