Leave it to a guy with nothing to lose — an innocent victim sentenced to death — to say what every reader of Tiger Lawyer may think at first: ''You're a joke, Tiger. You're a gag. A gimmick. An animal for Pete's sake.'' What is the precedent when it comes to an anthropomorphic professional? Fish Police? Is this some kind of one note bon mot or does Tiger Lawyer have teeth?
An idea whose time had come, Tiger Lawyer arose unbidden to its creator, Ryan Ferrier, in late 2011. Ferrier self-publishes Tiger Lawyer through Challenger Comics. Like Cerebus the Aardvark or Conan the Barbarian, Ferrier says everything the reader needs to know about his creation in its title. In an inspired bit of casting, the titular tiger's name (his legal name if you will) is Tiger Lawyer. Consider that joke caveat emptor for this comic. If it lands, one is free to join the pride. If it elicits nothing more than a sarcasm soaked eye roll, a groan or a sigh, than the jury may still be out. Judge accordingly.
Whimsical, weird or just plain stupid, there is no denying that the concept of Tiger Lawyer is (sorry, can't resist) grrreat. Ferrier fills out this first issue with two short stories, "Attorney at Rawr" and "Dead Cat Walking." In artists Vic Malhotra and Matt McCray, Ferrier finds the perfect style to fit each story.
"Attorney at Rawr" has a L.A. Law at its wackiest meets 1960s Hanna-Barbera. McCray draws Tiger Lawyer with a long face, his ears set back on his head and green eyes accented by a tie and pocket square the shade of lime Jell-O. McCray's invention is a slinky, slicked-back "courtroom shark" who looks like Chester Cheetah sans shades. Tiger looks his (pardon the pun) cheesiest when he's having an inter-species soak in a beachside hot tub.
Vic Malhotra and colorist Adam Metcalfe bring a moodier black, white and gray color palette to the noir "Dead Cat Walking." In Malhotra's hands Tiger Lawyer is stout, his suit a bit rumpled. He looks like a former nose tackle gone to seed whose now running the analyst racket. Unlike McCray's more feline form, Malhotra's barrister bristles in each frame dominating the panel's composition as he muscles his way from courtroom to the death row day room. There is some whisker inconsistency to Malhotra's design, but not enough to distract from the menace of such charismatic megafauna.
Malhorta and McCray get the lion's share of the art duties, but the issue contains pin-ups from other artists as well. Elizabeth Beals Tiger Lawyer reclines in repose and looks like he just stepped off the set of a Wes Anderson movie. While Ben Rankel's pin-up reminds the reader that the law is thirsty work. It would be criminal not to mention cover artists Diego Zúñiga and Michael Walsh who provide Tiger Lawyer with its two cover flip book design. Walsh's cover, in particular, has a ferocious energy and makes a bold statement about an up-and-coming talent to watch.
Rather than filler, the pin-up galleries draw attention to the imaginative potential of what Ferrier has fashioned. He chooses to play it safe in this first issue and go for the easy laugh as he indulges the innate comedic quality of something as absurd and blessed as Tiger Lawyer. In "Dead Cat Walking," Tiger cautions the Distract Attorney that she "tried to catch a tiger." She later quips: "Can't holler now, can you Tiger." There are fewer jokes in "Attorney at Rawr," even though it is the sillier story of the two, but Ferrier manages to slip in a couple of nods about letting Tiger's inner tiger out of its cage. The tales may be as light as meringue, but they are also as sweet.
Fast, cheap and self-referential jokes make for a good laugh the first-time through, but it is not a sustainable structure and Tiger Lawyer is too good of an idea to resign to a punch line. Ferrier has a tiger by the tail, so to speak. He knows it and others are catching on as well. Joe Keatinge, the former Image Comics public relations majordomo now turned writer of Hell Yeah and Glory, sees the potential in Tiger Lawyer. Beginning in June's Hell Yeah #4, Keatinge has asked Ferrier to contribute a Tiger Lawyer one-page back-up story. Perhaps this more strict construction will open creative opportunities for Ferrier to take Tiger Lawyer in a different direction. Ferrier is also in the process of funding the second issue of Tiger Lawyer at Indiegogo.
There's no need to pussyfoot around the fact that capes crowd so much space on comic book store shelves that there is little room to swing a cat, which in the case of Tiger Lawyer doesn't really matter since it's self-published. Ferrier's whip smart idea is on one hand so ludicrous while on the other so relatable that is one big ball of promise. In its defense, Tiger Lawyer shows its stripes by being an infectious joy that playfully sinks its teeth in deep enough to court a closer examination. Case closed.
Mr. Silva is a recent relapsed reader of comic books, loves alliteration and dies a little inside each time he can’t use an oxford comma in his reviews for Comics Bulletin. He spends most days waiting for files to render except on occasion when he can slip the bonds of editing and amble around cow barns, run alongside tractors and try not to talk while the camera is running. When not playing the fool for the three women he lives with, he reads long, inscrutable novels with swear words. He recently took single malt Scotch and would like to again, soon.