By: Erin Mehlos
Genre: Supernatural Western
Rating 8 out of 10
Description from the Website: “Next Town Over is a weekly paean to the western, liberally spiced with sorcery, secrets and steam, updating Saturdays. It primarily chronicles the curious rivalry twixt laconic, mechanically-inclined Vane Black and sorcerous, roguish John Henry Hunter … and no: it most certainly does not take place in the historical American west.”
I’m not a big fan of most westerns… especially modern day ones. Why? Because they usually are to pretty, too clean, and lack the raw grittiness of people trying to survive in the lawless West. I’m also not a big fan of magic an sorcery. I come from the school of thought that magic shouldn’t come without a price. Dungeons and Dragons style magic is too easy requires very little sacrifice on the mage’s part to conjure. Magic should not be as easy as reciting gibberish or wearing a magic medallion.
So imagine my surprise when I’m surfing Ink Outbreak one day and come across this amazingly intense scene of our two main characters, John Hunter and Vane Black in a break neck horse race through a ravine and Hunter full on KILLS his horse and uses the energy of the death to transform the corpse into a Nightmare. I was hooked. I had to read more, and I later bought the first volume when Erin Mehlos ran a Kickstarter campaign to have the book printed.
The Pros: The story and the narration are beautiful. John Hunter is suave and charismatic right from the start. But you also know that he’s a bad guy and not really somebody you want to be routing for. I love how much of a show off he is. It’s a great character flaw, he needs an audience to charm and woo and hence he keeps going to highly populated areas even though they are all looking for him. I’m sure this is something left over from his past by the brief flashback that we get of him on a stage. It’s also a great way to show the reader how lost he is. He doesn’t really seem to know where he’s going or why. Only that he is running from something from his past and that Miss Black is part of it, but not all of it.
And speaking of flashbacks, Mehlos’s choice of giving us glimpses of our main characters’ pasts as brief one panel flashes is brilliant. By having the flashback panels mimic the current scenes she beautifully and seamlessly gives the reader the impression that the characters themselves are remembering their past dealings with each other and that the flashbacks are not just there for our benefit alone.
Also, I really have to wonder if Miss Black was patterned after Lee Van Cleef in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. They both dress the same including the hat, and Hunter keeps calling her Angel Eyes.
The Cons: Sadly, Mehlos commits what I consider one of the biggest sins in writing and that is to create a character that is not a character. A character who is two dimensional, lacks real personality, and who serves no function other than to make things happen so the other characters have a reason to continue the plot. Sadly, the person I am speaking about is Miss Vane Black. As much as I like her character design and some of the ideas about her, in Vol.1 of Next Town Over all we see her do is show up in a town and be the instigator of ruin and chaos in her pursuit of killing John Hunter. That is all she does and the fact that there isn’t a wanted poster with her picture on it furthers my point that she exists simply to keep John Hunter running.
Other than we know she hates Hunter and that they have some sort of past between them (oh, and she may be dead) we know nothing about HER as a person. Her interactions with others besides Hunter only serve to give those other characters purpose (blacksmith and mining boys become bounty hunters) rather than give us a glimpse of what type of person she is and why she is driven to kill Hunter. The only time she shows any sign of a personality is after she purposely blew her horse up in an attempt to get at him. She does seem to genuinely care about her horse… but not enough to stop her lust for revenge and but it’s still not enough to give here any depth as a character.
The silent strange or man with no name character is a staple in westerns and I know that this is who she is supposed to be. I also know that this type of character is very hard to pull off properly because the writer has to walk that delicate line between mystery and two-dimentionality. In Vo.1 of NTO Miss Black does not quite cut it unfortunately. Perhaps in Vol. 2 her character will be better refined and be just as engaging as Mehlos’s other cast of characters and the world she has built.
In Conclusion: Don’t miss this book. Especially if you are a fan of westerns. The art is beautiful, the writing is amazing, and the story is very engaging. The vague, spooky character is too vague for my tastes but all the other characters carry the narrative beautifully. Read the webcomic for free, then buy the graphic novel to keep as your own. You won’t regret it.