Next Town Over

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While some people joke that Steampunk is what happens when Goths are introduced to the color brown, the truth is a bit more complex. In many ways Steampunk allows fans to indulge in the wistfulness for the past while retaining some element of the comforts of today’s technology… only with an added “coolness” factor of visible gears, glowing lights, and odd tubes that ultimately do nothing more than to add character to devices (and prevent them from fitting easily into pockets or the like).

That said, Steampunk has become to be less of a genre and more of a flavour for storytellers who wish to mix and match tropes to create something unique. This is definitely the case with Next Town Over, with the Steampunk elements being part of the amalgam of genres to craft a truly unique feel that includes Western, Fantasy, and Alternative Reality. Truth be told, NTO is more of a Fantasy Western than anything else; the Steampunk elements are barely hinted at four pages in, and only come into their glory nearly 50 pages in with a Steampunk-cyborg horse.

Nor is that the most surreal element in the story, which starts with the fiery funeral and rebirth of someone I assume to be the bounty hunter Vane Black as she seeks the outlaw sorcerer John Henry Hunter; a man who apparently knew Black back in civilization and who has the ability to summon and control fire (and a few other tricks as well). And while it would be easy to claim that Hunter is the Devil and Black seeks his demise, as fragments of their past and more of their present comes to pass, it becomes increasingly clear that neither character is a hero… or villain.

Both live in shades of dark grey; Hunter will kill or maim those who try to claim the bounty on his head or who threaten him, but he’ll leave innocents untouched even as his flames burn buildings down and end livelihoods. Black has robbed men, shot others, and then in the next town allies herself with men who Hunter has tried to con and treats them with a modicum of respect. And even when he had Black at his mercy, he left her unharmed (though I wonder if she can be harmed; she was shot through the hand to little effect when she first confronted Hunter).

Cartoonist Erin Mehlo has managed to craft a fascinating story and the world surrounding Black and Hunter, though she’s not yet revealed if Hunter’s “talents” are unique to him or if others in this world can utilize similar powers (though one of the side-stories hints that Hunter may not be unique to this world). What’s more, Mehlo’s artwork is detailed and quite skilled; each new character differs in structure and form, with an individuality that is rarely seen even in print comics. In short, this is one of the more fascinating comics I’ve come across, and definitely worth the time to read. Fair warning though, the comic can get violent. I mean, we’ve horses brought back from the dead with clockwork at the very least. And oh yes, there will be blood.