Tensions mount in the series’ penultimate issue.
So far, Shirtless Bear-Fighter! has gone up and down a bit in terms of quality. The first issue was great, the second was okay but had some major issues, and the third made significant progress toward living up to the concept’s full potential. Does issue #4 continue this upward trend or is it another dip in the road?
Overall, this issue has more going for it than against it. The pacing and transitions are very well-handled, so even the more questionable aspects of the writing are lifted up a bit by a strong basic narrative structure. We get a few major plot revelations that, if done clumsily, could have felt cliché, but are handled well enough to be effective. The government agent character, Burke, continues to be a highlight of the series. Burke’s a well-done case of a good man gone bad due to the moral complexities of the world. He doesn’t get in-depth analysis by any means, but for a title primarily steeped in bear-fighting comedy, he’s unexpectedly multi-faceted.
The art on this issue is solid as well. The highlight of the visuals is Mike Spicer’s color work. The light sky blues and green hills fit the tone of the series and are very pleasing to look at. The line-art here is functional enough, but doesn’t go far enough in any direction to wow me. The characters are never rendered poorly and the style throughout is consistent, but said style isn’t at its most charming. Characters’ emotions and plot events are both conveyed clearly but seldom feel very engrossing.
To be fair to the art team, my qualms with this issue aren’t just about the visuals. As I stated previously, the writing has plenty of good points. Unfortunately, it is solidly good, not great. There are a handful of likable characters here, but there are also plenty that are unremarkable. This is especially troublesome because the titular character and his arch-nemesis are among the least interesting cast members in this issue. I’m all for individual issues that take time away from the main characters to further develop the supporting cast, but this issue doesn’t do that. Everyone gets page-time, most characters just aren’t utilized very effectively. The plot drives most of the action, which is a problem when the plot is hard to get emotionally invested in.
Overall, Shirtless Bear-Fighter! #4 is good, but not great. Solid foundations of good pacing, great coloration, and functional line-art make the issue worth checking out if the premise intrigues you. With that said, the issue lacks the enthralling action and comedic strength that strengthened past installments in the series. If you’ve been keeping up with this series I would recommend buying this, but it’s not an issue that’s likely to charm new readers.