FENCE #5 by C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad
FENCE #5 delivers a heartfelt message about sportsmanship, along with the usual high school drama. C.S. Pacat's sharp writing reinforces Johanna the Mad's exquisite character design.
99 %

Sportswriter Grantland Rice wisely suggested that it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. This philosophy shines through in Boom! Studios comic FENCE #5. C.S. Pacat’s crisp writing returns in this issue, fabulously illustrated by Johanna the Mad and colored by Joana Lafuente. After a rough match in an even rougher comic, aspiring fencer Nicholas Cox makes his dramatic return.   

Image courtesy of Boom! Studios.

In past issues, Nicholas’ desire to beat nemesis Seiji causes paralysis on the piste. The complicated dynamic between Nicholas, Seiji, and the other boys at Kings Row only gets tenser in FENCE #5. Luckily for Nick, he’s not alone. His friends, especially young genderqueer Bobbi, have his back. FENCE #5 emphasizes interpersonal relationships, and rounds out a new antagonist for the series: Aiden, the hot, rich heart-breaker.

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FENCE #5: The Comeback Kid

The comic opens on a surprisingly touching moment between Nicholas and his coach. The heart-to-heart helps Pacat reground the comic, giving Nicholas new goals. As a result, the series finds renewed energy. The scene highlights Pacat’s ear for dialogue. Each character in FENCE has their own distinct voice, from Coach’s gruff tough-love to Bobbi’s quick enthusiasm. Pacat skillfully casts each character, bringing out important subtleties in FENCE #5. For example, Coach is not as intimidating as she may seem. Her passion is for fencing, but she clearly cares for her students. Other characters, such as Aiden, are delightfully devious. Indeed, Aiden becomes the true threat in FENCE #5. This isn’t necessarily because of his skills as a fencer. Moreso, it’s that Aiden plays mind games with everyone, from his lovers to his opponents. And unlike the other students, he knows how to crack just about everyone.

Image courtesy of Boom! Studios.

Just like Nicholas himself, the comic makes a strong comeback. FENCE #5 starts to put pieces together, especially when it comes to Seiji’s stoicism and aloof attitude. Additionally, Pacat builds on the issue of economic class differences, posing the wealthy Aiden as the true antagonist to Nicholas. Ultimately, Pacat emphasizes passion, and FENCE #5 delivers.  

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The Art of Showing Off

With its sports anime influence, FENCE would be lost without Johanna the Mad’s tantalizing art. The dreamy athletic characters are naturally spellbinding. And their perfect hair makes the already over-the-top sexiness even more humorous. Previous issues play up the strong sense of homoeroticism in the comic. FENCE #5 is similarly heated. For instance, Johanna the Mad makes Aiden larger than life. Indeed, Aiden smugly poses in the frames, knowing that he is the center of attention. Readers will love to hate this new antagonist.

Like past issues, FENCE #5 consists of slashing frames, adding to the speed of the comic. Johanna the Mad’s thoughtful layouts make FENCE a more interesting comic. Additionally, her blend of cutesy illustrations and sharp character design highlights Pacat’s sense of humor. Ultimately, Johanna the Mad’s art adds to the comic’s self-awareness. It relishes the overly sexy characters and the melodrama. Johanna the Mad expertly draws out the drama. She playfully focuses on close-ups on each character’s face and on the tension between the athletes.

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Back on Track

FENCE #5 meditates on the question of winning and losing. As Coach says, winning is a distraction. It’s hardly as satisfying as it should be. But sadly, for many competitive types, losing is the worst possible failure. Although FENCE enjoys competition as a source of drama, it reminds us that just playing your sport well is worthwhile. Nicholas wants to be as good as his father, but first he must remember why he loves fencing. FENCE #5 asserts that dedication and passion for any activity are more important than winning or losing.

Image courtesy of Boom! Studios.

FENCE #5 delivers a heartfelt message. But readers will still be on the edge of their seats watching each match. Although the focus has been on the top contenders for the team, hopefully future issues will develop other characters. Bobbi, for example, has the potential to be much more than an adorably fawning cheerleader. Additionally, the mystery behind Nicholas’ father, the Olympic fencer Robert Coste, has only become more pronounced. Questions need answers, but for now, FENCE #5 puts the comic back on track for success.

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