FENCE #11 by C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad
FENCE #11 lacks the pace of previous issues, but C.S. Pacat takes the opportunity to dive into character development and explore what makes a great fencing team. Johanna the Mad's artwork reinforces the comic's strengths as a character study.
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A Pause in the Action

After last month’s showdown between Seiji Katayama and Nicholas Cox in FENCE #10, it is reasonable to expect an emotional letdown. The BOOM! Studios teen sports comic series by C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad has methodically built up to the moment the two fencing nemeses faced off. Seiji’s near-perfect technique took him to the top, but Nicholas’ passion for fencing helped him see past petty rivalry. Now, Pacat and Johanna the Mad take a pause to explore the difference between cut-throat instinct and compassion in FENCE #11. The slower comic has some sweet moments and plenty of complex questions about good sportsmanship. Despite a few plot holes, Pacat’s writing expertly balances humor and drama. Johanna the Mad’s charming artwork matches the tone beat for beat.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Coach Knows Best

Throughout the FENCE series, Pacat positions the Kings Row Fencing Coach as the voice of reason. She is deliberate, logical, and weighs the merits of her team’s skill and passion carefully. As a result, she often expresses the main idea of each issue. FENCE #11 is no exception. As the characters move ever closer to finalizing the year’s official team, Coach suggests that players who want to win are desirable, but caring for the team’s overall success is also crucial. In short, killer instincts must be balanced with loyalty to the team.

This philosophical look at good sportsmanship reflects on the comic overall. Throughout the series, Pacat balances fast-paced drama with plenty of heart. For example, readers quickly emphasize with Nicholas, whose scholarship to Kings Row depends on making the team. However, even Seiji, the stand-out antagonist for the better part of the series, pays for his expert skills at the cost possible friendships. FENCE #11 exemplifies the more contemplative episodes, giving Pacat a chance to develop characters and explore more theoretical questions.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Friend or Foe?

FENCE #11 delves into the last stages of the Kings Row team tryouts. Although the ice has mostly melted between Seiji and Nicholas, a new antagonist emerges. Past issues suggested that the high school’s heartthrob Aiden isn’t much of a romantic. FENCE #11 proves that Aiden’s aloof attitude verges on cruelty. As a result, Pacat fleshes out another key aspect of good sportsmanship: respect for your competitors. While Seiji isn’t friendly, he doesn’t tend to use mind games in order to degrade the other fencer. Unlike Seiji, Aiden emotionally humiliates the other boys as he physically wears them down. FENCE #11 suggests that Aiden just might be the real villain of the story.

Aiden’s cavalier attitude proves another point in Pacat’s story: you can’t always get what you want. In sports, as in life, there are emotional letdowns. However, Seiji and Aiden’s attitudes alienate their classmates. Even when Nicholas’ passion leads him into trouble, it also helps him find friendship and joy in what he does.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Useful Plot Holes?

Apparently, in all the excitement of Seiji and Aiden’s ruthless battle to the top, Nicholas missed that every boys fencing team has a reserve spot. The entire series built its drama from the fact that there are 3 spots on the boys fencing team. FENCE #11 handily reminds readers and Nicholas that there is a 4th spot, the reserve spot. Although it is helpful for readers, it does seem surprising that Nicholas doesn’t seem to know this aspect of fencing. Nevertheless, the minor plot hole serves to drive the comic forward. Indeed, rather than 3 spots on the team, there is now a 4th way to the team for one fencer.

FENCE #11Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Art That Won’t Quit

Despite the lull in the overall plot, FENCE #11 is an enjoyable read. Moreover, Johanna the Mad’s art does not disappoint. The inexplicably good hair. Aiden’s glinting eyes. Eugene’s charming smile. The fencing sequences. Every aspect of Johanna the Mad’s artwork emphasizes the mix of humor, charm, and high school drama.

As always, the artwork follows the story, embracing Nicholas’ triumphs and failures. In past issues, Johanna the Mad’s slanting frames would evoke the slices of the fencers’ blows. The skewed frames in previous issues also suggested that the playing field Nicholas is on may not quite be fair. Interestingly, FENCE #11’s frames are more level. Could it be that the scales are tipping in Nicholas’ favor?

FENCE #11: Strong Hearts Win Out

Throughout the series, FENCE emphasizes the importance of passion. Loving what you do for the sake of the experience can be just as rewarding as being the most talented player. FENCE #11 highlights the benefits of kindness over ego, even when you might lose the game. Although the plot is slower than previous issues, FENCE #11 is sweet and exciting. Pacat moves the high school drama along with wisdom and patience. Johanna the Mad’s artwork emphasizes the story’s humor and keeps readers focused on what matters.

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