FENCE #3 By C.S. Pacat with artwork by Johanna the Mad
BOOM! Box's FENCE #3 by C.S. Pacat takes young hero Nicholas Cox to the Kings Row boarding school where he must prove himself or lose his place. The exciting sports drama is brought to gorgeous life by Johanna the Mad. Her attractive characters and animated action scenes make FENCE #3 a winner.
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BOOM! Studios series FENCE follows the lives of young men from elite boarding schools as they compete at tournament-level fencing. In FENCE #3, the underdog Nicholas Cox must prove his mettle to keep his scholarship at Kings Row boarding school. Unfortunately, he has since come face to face with his nemesis Seiji Katayama on the piste and as his new roommate. Nicholas and his teammates must fight for the spot on the varsity épée team. But – appropriately for the third issue – there can only be three. Tensions build in C.S. Pacat’s comic, but new friendships blossom, too. Johanna The Mad’s sports anime-inspired artwork keeps the drama moving and gives readers dreamy characters to root for.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

BOOM! Studios’ comics are known for their commitment to diversity, particularly positive LGBTQ+ representation. FENCE #3 does not disappoint in the case of fencing team heartthrob, Aiden, or Nicholas’ genderqueer friend, Bobby. However, the homoerotics of the comic are less present than previously suggested. In Nicholas’ case, his focus on Seiji is intensely competitive, but not yet romantic. As it is, Nicholas has more problems to worry about. As the formidable fencing coach says, his technique is the worst in the group.

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FENCE #3: The Greatest of All Weapons

A highlight of C.S. Pacat’s series is the rapport between characters. Seiji’s arrogant confidence makes him someone readers will love to hate. Yet, there’s something about him. His skill and self-confidence are obvious, but his mysterious detachment from the other boys at Kings Row gives him an air of intrigue. Not surprisingly, many of the young freshmen, including the femme-of-center Bobby, are infatuated with Seiji’s skill and inscrutability.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Unlike his fellow freshmen, Nicholas wants nothing to do with Seiji. Nicholas is there to prove himself against the other boys. As the only scholarship student, there is tremendous pressure to outperform his peers. Additionally, Nicholas is the illegitimate son of the olympic fencing champion. After years of being the underdog, Nicholas has his chance to pursue his passion – but only if he can beat the other boys! Nicholas is easy to like, and makes for a compelling protagonist.

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As Bobby suggests in FENCE #3, fencing is about being the person you want to be. For Nicholas, this strikes close to home, as he wants to be the son his father might love. The complicated array of emotions addressed in this issue is a strong suit of the series. Although the plot and character dynamics might be a little cliché, the underdog sport story is always fun. The young love, bad boys, and hormones aside, the comic addresses feelings of acceptance, friendship, and loss. Moreover, the story suggests that being a good teammate might be an important lesson for all the boys to learn.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Slicing Frames

Johanna the Mad’s artwork combines anime aesthetics and dreamy character design. Her hunky heroes are athletic and have perfect hair. But she’s not afraid to play with expressions, often illustrating intense emotions in a more cartoony way. Many of the younger characters often get heart-eyes and beads of sweat when they see the older boys go by. The exaggerated expressions on otherwise conventionally attractive bodies adds levity to the comic. The cuteness allows FENCES #3 to take its place alongside other BOOM! Studios comics.

A fascinating aspect of Johanna the Mad’s comic design is the framing. Most of the sequences are in rectangles, but any scene featuring athleticism often takes place in angular fields. As a result, Johanna the Mad highlights the movement of the bodies on the page and meets precision with speed. The layout is evocative of the sport, and fully embodies the tension and excitement of the rivalries.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

How there can be this many buff young men in one second-rate fencing team is inexplicable. Johanna the Mad’s characters are unrealistically good-looking, and unfortunately the comic lacks body size diversity. It seems apparent that the artistic focus is on the athletics as well as homoerotic sexiness. There is tremendous racial and gender diversity in the comic. However, there is the potential that this comic be more queer-baiting than other BOOM! Studios comics. Many of the characters are gay and/or genderqueer, but Nicholas and Seiji’s sexuality is not a feature of the comic yet.

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Final Thoughts: Fighting to the Top

Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

A fun aspect of FENCE #3 is a brief lesson in fencing styles from the Kings Row coach. The sport, which has similarities to dancing, is about “balance… agility…explosiveness…and precision.” Likewise the comic embodies these elements in interesting ways.

Pacat’s storytelling balances action with emotion to craft well-rounded and diverse characters. At the same time, Johanna the Mad’s artwork is full of movement and explosiveness. The artwork and the writing combine to fantastic effect throughout the series. In FENCE #3, the characters begin to find their confidence as they gear up for the tournament that will decide their fate.

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