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Review: Fence #12

Fence #12 is the final issue in the originally planned 12 issue run, however, it was recently announced that Fence would continue in a series of original graphic novels. How much has that affected the planned storyline? Has C.S. Pacat added extra drama so that it can be continued on? It’s difficult to tell as this issue is a very pleasing final to the 12 month run but there are still so many narrative threads left hanging.

The try outs are complete and the first three for the Kings Row Fencing Team has been decided, only the announcement of the reserve is left to be revealed and this drives the drama for the first section of this issue.

Once the announcement assembly is complete, the fencers have to get on with their normal school life, get back to the dull grind of education. However, there is one more surprise in store for the chosen few fencers who made the team.

C.S. Pacat treats this issue as the final to the series, winding up the story which began in issue 1. The rivalry between Nicholas and Seiji has reached its zenith and, in one way, they have discovered who is the better fencer, at least for now. But the story wasn’t about Nicholas winning and being the ‘champion of the world’, just like Rocky in the original movie, this has been a story about striving to prove a point. Nicholas has worked up from nothing to fence with some of the best fencers in the world and Pacat makes sure that his triumph is illustrated in the story.

The reader is shown Nicholas doubting himself at the begging, reminding us where the young man was when Pacat first introduced him, and through this issue we are shown how far he has come: via his interaction with old rivals, new friends, and a reminder of where he came from.

The entire issue is an emotional journey and a condensed reflection of Nicholas’ long path from issue 1. Pacat brings everything to a satisfying conclusion, even if it might not be the conclusion that the reader was expecting but, as I stated earlier, there is still plenty of story left for these characters and the creators to explore.

To reflect the release of tension from the story, Johanna the Mad approaches the art work with a more humour. There is a frivolity to some of the panels and pages which lightens the mood after previous issues tense fencing bouts. The neat, simple line work often gives the characters a newspaper comic strip look allowing the relaxed humour of the new friends to shine through. Background characters become faceless sketches as the emphasis is drawn towards the few who the reader has followed over the last 12 months.

One of the most important moments in the issue is given the attention it deserves with a large panel, with the characters crossing over the gutters and the background a pale wash of colour only. There is no speech, just two characters acknowledging each other and their achievements. It’s a beautiful moment and almost doesn’t need the following panel which explains the moment.

Johanna the Mad has a wonderful talent of switching between simplified, comical figure work and more detailed, emotional acting for the characters. This makes the narrative skip along at a pleasant pace, breaking up the moments with humour so that the reader doesn’t pass over the little moments that these characters have between each other. The comic is about the growing relationships between these characters and the art work represents all aspects of these relationships: the conflicts and the camaraderie.

Joanna Lafuente continues to use block background colours so as not to detract away from the character moments in each panel. From one point of view it must be a difficult comic to colour as the School uniforms and fencing whites have to be a set colour but Lafuente still manages to express emotion and character, mostly via the backgrounds. By changing the colours from one to another it highlights the difference between the characters and their emotional states at that point.

Jim Campbell continues to do a wonderful job with the lettering, taking a lot of exposition and making it almost invisible over the art work. One of my favourite parts of this comic is the use of Thought Balloons, a technique that is sorely lacking from comics today, having mostly been replaced by caption boxes. Nicholas is a very thoughtful character, constantly doubting himself and overthinking situations and Campbell illustrates this with the thought balloons that surround the fencer.

Fence has been an enjoyable and entertaining read from day 1. It allows itself high drama and juvenile humour without judgement of either. These are characters who are growing into adults and they are riddled with all the emotions and insecurities that all teenagers the world over have to contend with. The depiction of Fencing has been a joy to read, especially as it has acted as a reflection of the character’s development and not just an excuse for action sequences. This final issue of the monthly run is a perfect end for this part of the story and a wonderful jumping off point for future stories.

Maybe not intended for new readers, although any of the previous 11 issues have been new reader friendly, this is a definite must for anyone who has read any previous issues. It’s a conclusion but also a starting point; it’s the End of the Beginning.

Darryll Robson is a Contributor to ComiConverse. He has a much underused Twitter account: @DarryllRobson, and his own website where he writes more about comics.

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