Bear #3, December 2003, Slave Labor Graphics
by Jamie Smart
Bear is closer to the kind of comic book I would prefer to review this holiday season, but even with its coincidental yet appropriate references to winter and Christmas, retains a playful level of dementia that best slates this book as a more Halloweeny, by my self-imposed standards of holiday categorization. (I never intended for these monthly themes to consume A Comic A Day, but I think any blog that dares to review a comic a day for an entire year would be hard-pressed to resist such chronological categorization, especially in the face of making each review current and relevant. But maybe that's just me.) Bear is Mutts on acid -- it's Pigtale meets Serenity Rose, all of which is a good thing. Now let's rip the stuffings out of this thing, shall we?
Jamie Smart takes the personified cartoon animal and truly institutionalizes it through her twisted take on the cat-and-mouse motif, which in this case, best suited to the title of the series, is actually cat-and-bear. Looshkin is a demented cat determined to torture cute little Bear, both of whom are under the apathetic supervision of Karl, a hipster doofus either oblivious to his companion's plight or too self-consumed to do anything about it. Bear #3 features several tales, four of which actually feature the Looshkin vs. Bear war: in the first, Loosh clones Bear so he can torture him endlessly but is thwarted when Bear and "Bear B" bond. The second and third tales are linked, each creatively telling the same tale from either character's point-of-view as Loosh comes into the possession of a tiny black hole. The fourth, and by far most disturbing even by the author's admission, simply has Looshkin subjecting the helpless Bear to a bathtub full of pig innards. The tales are wordy but entertainingly driven by their own momentum; faithful readers of Bear could undoubtedly jump right into this issue, while a new reader, like me, needed to digest this sickening sweetness with a break between readings. Fortunately, the short-story nature of this issue suits such a novice need.
Yes, the Bear-tensive stories aren't the only ones in the issue. Four other tales (excluding the text ridden inside covers) are sprinkled throughout, three of which are only a single-paged strip. The other, "Make Snowmen, Not War," is the underdog of the entire package, utilizing Smart's seeming randomness and applying to a wartime setting, which is surprisingly fitting for soldiers from opposing sides cowering in foxholes literally feet from one another. Bear is the commanding officer, but his role is minimal, as the oafish soldiers wonder how to handle their peculiar predicament:
BEAR: You filthy rotters. You just launched an unprovoked attack on us.
ENEMY: Yeah sorry. Can we have it back?
BEAR: You heard the man. Throw him a grenade.
SOLDIER: Uhh, we ran out of grenades, sir. We used them in the casserole.
BEAR: Well, what do we have?
SOLDIER: Uhh, we have Adams, sir. He's light and he has a terrific temper.
BEAR: Okay then throw Adams. Quickly, before we lose the advantage.
It's a giggle a panel, with absurdity and satire all rolled into one. Again, the best story of the issue. I did enjoy the last story, too, in which a boy's brain builds a snowman on his head without his consent. It's a tad macabre, but really, every snowman story is. Isn't Frosty's annual one-month lifespan an unnecessary kamikaze mission for the holiday cause? To watch kids get attached to him, only to melt away . . . it's sick.
So, Bear didn't infuse me with the holiday spirit, but it certainly didn't take it away, either. In fact, Bear, as a representative of one of the most timeless toys ever, may have simply offered another perspective of the season to me, the underbelly of what's brewing inside every strange little child's sugarplum dreams. I guess Christmas has its tricks and treats, too.