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One Punch Reviews #64: Next Town Over

One of the genres that has surprisingly thrived under the webcomic format is the weird western. Now, I ain’t saying that readers cotton it, particularly — the same way they cotton those comics what make fun of video games, I mean. Weird westerns, though, sure do cut a swell during awards time. High Moon, which is about the Wild West with werewolves, won a Harvey Award. Guns of Shadow Valley, which is about cowboys with superpowers, was nominated for an Eisner. It makes sense when you think about it. Weird westerns hearken back to the Golden Age of movies when heroes like John Wayne, Gary Cooper, and Clint Eastwood lit up the screen. At the same time, they play to more modern audiences when you add some sci-fi, the supernatural, fantasy, and steampunk.

Who could have imagined that The Wild Wild West was the future of storytelling?

Which brings us to Erin Mehlos’ Next Town Over. It sure is a mighty unassuming name. You hear it and you done think to yourself, “With a fancy title like that, this is surely some sort of romance comic.” Which, come to think it it, may not be all too far from the mark. At its heart, this is a webcomic about two lovers. They also have superpowers. And a couple of souped up horses. Set down a spell and you’ll see what I mean.

Let me tell you a story about a desperado named John Henry Hunter. To common eyes, the man is simply an gambler and a lothario in a stylish snowy white duster. ‘Neath that, though, the man is as vile as they come. He is also an arsonist, a murderer, and a practitioner of witchcraft. There is a $10,000 bounty on his head, soon to be raised to $15,000. You ask me, I think that ain’t enough money to cover the trouble. After all, John Henry Hunter ain’t yer typical outlaw. He’s some sort of crazy pyromancer. He can summon columns of flame. He can breathe fire. He can kill horses with a fire sword, then resurrect them as fiery elemental creatures.

It’s going to take someone just as ornery to bring down such a wily villain. That’s when we’re introduced to Vane. She may not look like much. Heck, she looks positively sickly, like someone dying of the typhoid. She may already be dead. But she’s a score to settle with ol’ John Henry Hunter, and she don’t aim to stop lest it take her to the ends of the earth … or the next town over, as it may be. She is so dang determined to send Hunter to hell that even hanging won’t kill her. She’s armed to the hilt, with a couple of six shooters, a fancy steampunk rifle, and … a rocket propelled grenade, apparently. She also has a cyborg horse.

But most importantly, she is crazy.

The two seem destined to knock galley west till the sun comes down. Neither will ever get the upper hand. Neither will ever go down. They’re two overpowered opponents, and like a cyclone rippin’ through Oklahoma, they cannot be defined as good or evil. That’s the best way to describe what these two are, I reckon: forces of nature. Now there ain’t much of a story, but there don’t need to be. Oh, there some mystery there, which can be boiled down to, “Why are these two hosses fightin’?” That ain’t the reason to be reading this. Rather, Next Town Over is an all action webcomic — with shoot-outs, chases, lassoing and the like — and it ain’t ashamed of what it is. It’s for folks who swill Tennessee whiskey and are in the mood for some rootin’, tootin’, shootin’, gun-totin’, sassafrassin’ Texas-sized brawls.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5).

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Posted on April 30, 2012, in 4 Stars, action webcomic, One Punch Reviews, The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics, western webcomic. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. The art is gorgeous, and the story is economically told (a serious compliment in a world where some webcomics take years to get to the point). However, I find Vane to be completely unlikable as a protagonist, especially next to her suave, nonplussed prey. I’m rooting for Hunter the entire time, but know I’m not really supposed to. This makes it an incongruous experience.

    • I find myself rooting for Hunter too, even though he’s a pyromaniac who destroys everything in his wake. Maybe that’s the point, too. The writer makes no bones about Vane being just as terrible, after all. It could be that she’s not actually the protagonist.

      Like I said, they’re beyond good and evil in that they are both forces of destruction. It’s sort of theme that works with some spaghetti westerns. I am thinking of ones like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, where, despite the title, the three leads are only a shade different from each other. It’s also the one where the most despicable character, Tuco, ends up being the most sympathetic.

      EDIT: Another example, a little more obscure just occurred to me: Red River. It’s my favorite John Wayne performance of all time. As the movie starts of, the John Wayne character seems like every other he’s played. He’s an enterprising business man, he fights off people trying to take his land, and his rance helps establish Texas as a powerhouse state. As the movie goes on, though, you start to realize something: John Wayne is sort of a mad man. In fact… he’s sort of the villain in the piece, and as you look back, you start to realize that everything he’s done has always been bad. He’s killed Native Americans protecting their own territory. He stole the land from the rightful owners. Its just that you overlooked it because he’s John Wayne. He’s the good guy, right? The whole movie’s pretty fantastic … except the ending, which I understand were the producers being a little nervous about turning John Wayne into a full fledged villain. I heard even Howerd Hawks, the director, hated the ending that he was forced to film.

      Now, I don’t know if Vane will turn out to be the villain of the piece in the same way. But it is possible, and why I’m probably a little forgiving of Vane’s poor moral character at this point.

      • Vane probably is the villain. She is wearing the black hat, after all.

      • I’ve never been able to sympathise with Hunter. From the word go he’s felt… rapey.

        Vane, of course, isn’t a pure-hearted hero, and in fact seems – based on the brief glimpses into her past – motivated almost purely by vengeance.

        Neither is all that heroic, but the only way they’d ever stop fighting, destroying and generally screwing over the west is if Vane kills Hunter. No matter how many times Hunter kills Vane, she just gets back up again.

        That is why I’m rooting for Vane.

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