By C.S. Pacat, Johanna the Mad
Fence #1 follows Nicholas Cox, a competitive young man with a love for fencing. His story thus far seems to follow a familiar progression: main character has high hopes, chases dreams, falls flat, tries harder, and eventually succeeds minus a plot twist with the final page turn. Although it’s a new series, the story feels like it’s been told before. The world seems empty as well, as scenes are drawn focusing almost exclusively on a few characters, without detailing much background, or even other characters.
With all that being said, the issue is intended for 12+ audiences. In that area, Fence #1 would likely succeed. Nicholas is a character that’s easy to root for in his endeavors, and the mystery of his father’s identity will likely be an overarching plot. He’s courageous when the odds are stacked against him, and determined to improve no matter what. Thanks to a few flashbacks, it’s also clear that he’s had to work hard for the progress he’s made thus far. There’s a definite sense that Nicholas deserves to do well because of the time he’s put in. Young readers can look to him as a role model in some aspects, even though he feels similar to main characters of other Young Adult stories.
The art seems to borrow from some manga traditions, especially in displaying emotion. When a character loses a match, steam erupts from their ears, an insult thrown at them occupies most of the background, and the parts that aren’t are splattered in red. This dramatization not only serves as an homage to sports manga, but also easily connotes how any character feels in a panel. Similarly, Nicholas’ body language consistently adds to whatever dialogue is in a panel. The way he slouches during one conversation in particular alludes to some much needed depth in his character.
The physical world of Fence could use more of this depth as well. In general, most panels are pulled in tightly to their subjects, blocking out any enriching details that might be otherwise picked up from setting the scene. This spills over in the characters. Even most articles of clothing are plain or use simple designs that hold characters back from expressing themselves. Obviously, that becomes difficult, given the fact that fencing attire is purely white, but it does seem as if there are some missed opportunities in developing the way that Fence looks and feels.
Fence #1, although clichéd, is a fun ride. It promises rivalry and tension that will be enjoyed by its target audience and will likely groom a new generation of comics readers, especially given the unique focus: fencing. To more avid readers, the story may seem already done, but younger readers will likely enjoy following Nicholas’ fiery attitude battle through the fencing world and the even more frightening world of school.