FENCE #4 by C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad
C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad's latest addition to the BOOM! Studios series FENCE takes a step back from plot development to focus on characters detail. FENCE #4 builds tension and excitement, but is over before it can get off the ground.
90 %
Loses Momentum

Tensions are running high in the fourth issue of BOOM! Studio’s series FENCE. It’s the first day of the tournament to see who will make the fencing team. For Nicholas Cox, it’s a point of pride as well as opportunity. If he doesn’t make the team, he’ll have to leave the boarding school. With stakes like these, C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad are primed to make FENCE #4 as exciting as the last three issues.

While Johanna the Mad’s anime-inspired artwork continues to drive the competition between godlike high schoolers, the story unfortunately breaks under the pressure. Recycling a great deal of storyline from previous issues, the Nicholas Cox plot is disappointingly brief. However, Pacat seizes the opportunity to develop a few new characters: the dreamy slacker Aiden, and the series’ antagonist Seiji Akiyama.

FENCE #1 Review: When Swords Cross, Sparks Fly

FENCE #4: Waits Too Long

It is tempting to read FENCE #4’s plot choices metaphorically. The hesitations, flashbacks, and overall lack of progress mirrors Nicholas Cox’s progress as a character. Much like Nicholas, the series has natural gifts. Pacat’s dialogue is believable but also appropriately “extra” for the anime-like comic. Johanna the Mad’s gorgeous character design brings that little feeling of homoerotics that any sports comic should embrace. But much like Nicholas, in FENCE #4, the comic is overwhelmed by detail, focuses too much on the past, and can’t seem to move forward. Thus, FENCE #4 brilliantly embodies the turmoil felt by the hormonal young teenagers. However, it dwells just a little too long on recaps from the first issue.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Like previous issues, FENCE #4 is a quick read that comes to an abrupt end. The structure keeps the series’ typical fast pace. In this issue, Pacat’s dialogue is even sharper than in the past, giving way to stronger characterization. Bobby’s sweet spunkiness, their coach’s intensity, and Seiji’s arrogance all add to the dynamics of the comic. As the coach points out, everyone deals with anxiety in a different way. And Johanna the Mad and Pacat skillfully render that concept on the page. Although the comic feels short, it’s hard to say if FENCE #4 really adds much to the overall arc. Nevertheless, the tension between characters grows. Additionally, the mounting odds against Nicholas and the potential for drama seems unbearably high.

Johanna the Mad’s Mad Skills

Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

Previous reviews have pointed out the possibility for innuendo that the sport of fencing adds. That being said, even without the phallic motif the high school drama would be a satisfyingly queerotic read. Indeed, even if this comic was about chess club or swim team, Johanna the Mad would do justice to the story. Her smooth style and anime aesthetics gives the characters humorously hyper-athleticism. But the artwork isn’t just a meditation on sexiest character design. Johanna sometimes reverts to a shorthand style to give her characters a full range of emotion. From blushing Bobby with heart eyes, to the sweating and red faced Nicholas. The mix is refreshing and saves FENCE from monotony.

In FENCE #4, Johanna the Mad does recycle frames and action shots. Of course, her illustrations follow the direction of the plot. However, as always, the slicing frames foreground the intense fighting scenes. The comic’s layout allows the raw emotions of the competitors to shine through.

FENCE #3 Review: Good Instincts, Great Technique

Old Habits and Key Points?

Although FENCE #4 may not hold up to past issues, it seems Pacat is setting the stage for some major action. It may once again be reading too much into the comic, but readers should keep a sharp eye out for details. In fencing, knowing the positions, the hits, and the tricks of each competitor is the key to success. Likewise, attentive readers may notice seemingly innocuous details. For example, why does Seiji hit so hard? How does Aiden get away with missing practice? How might Nicholas use these details to his advantage? Whether they prove to be as meaningful as I imagine will be exciting to see.

Image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

What’s more pointed about FENCE #4 is that the focus moves away from Nicholas and onto characters including the ever-optimistic Bobby, as well as Aiden. The introduction of Aiden into the plot line is interesting. Up until FENCE #4, all we know is that he is the heartbreaker of Kings Row. Instead of attending practice, he sleeps around. But his reentry into the plot marks an exciting change in the comics’ direction. Hopefully future issues will develop other characters as well.


Final Thoughts: Keep Fighting

Despite the lack of overall progress in the arc, FENCE #4 provides exciting character detail. The fantastic artwork is a strength, and brings the heat. Although the comic loses momentum, Johanna the Mad and Pacat make sure it doesn’t lose heart. The dreamy character design makes FENCE a delight to read. Additionally, Pacat’s efforts to draw out new characters brings intrigue to an otherwise underdeveloped story line. FENCE #4 ultimately adds to the excitement of the overall series. Pacat teases readers with details to set the stage for what will hopefully be an explosive next issue.

FENCE #4 and other issues can be found here.

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