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Webcomic / Next Town Over

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Gears, Glyphs, Guns and Ghosts....From Ben Mehlos' deviantArt account.

That's John Henry Hunter, ain't it?...The $15,000 fella? But I'm thinking you're not really after the $15,000.

Next Town Over is a weekly Gaslamp Fantasy western webcomic by Ben Mehlos.

John Henry Hunter is a notorious and dangerous outlaw with pyrokinetic abilities; so infamous is he across the territories that he has a reward of $10,000 and counting on his head. He is seen in the town of Lookback taking a valuable necklace of personal significance to him from a French maid while torching the saloon they are in.

Trailing after him is the equally dangerous and mysterious Bounty Hunter Vane Black. Vane, a stone-faced woman with an eerie pallor, is an old acquaintance of Hunter's who is hunting him down for having wronged her in the past.

As they battle across the frontier, they take advantage of every object, person, or animal which might help them to achieve their goals. And neither of them seems to care much about the collateral damage they cause during their confrontations. This is not a good thing for the other inhabitants of The Wild West. (See Title Drop below.)

Why is she chasing him? And what, exactly, is he after?

The webcomic updates every Saturday. The first page is here, and the latest is here.

Next Town Over provides examples of:

  • Anti-Hero: Vane is one ruthless heroine, if not an outright Villain Protagonist, given how so far she's caused far more death and devastation than good in her quest to kill Hunter.
  • Anti-Villain: Hunter, who is quite an affable and nice person... if you ignore his disregard for human life and property, as well as pettiness.
  • Back from the Dead: Who or whatever burst out of that coffin in the first few pages, her build looks suspiciously like Vane's. Over the course of many flashbacks, we're shown that Vane was killed by a failed Violet Fever vaccine of her own design - only for Hunter to bind a fire spirit to her body as she died, causing her to resurrect in fiery splendour.
  • Badass Cape: Vane's is pretty sweet.
  • Badass Longcoat: Hunter, in various shapes and forms (due to his battles with Vane and various other opponents, he keeps having to replace them).
  • The Blacksmith: Vane not only makes her own weapons, she also gradually re-forges Diamonds, her horse, into a cyborg.
  • Blood Magic: Brother Matteo in Villa Dolorosa uses blood magic to heal Hunter after a fight with Vane. The Reverend Mother Harker uses his magic to attempt to exorcise Vane, unleashing the fire spirit bound to her body.
  • Bullet Catch: Hunter can pull one off.
  • Came Back Wrong: Hunter bound a fire spirit to Vane that caused her to rise from the dead as a fiery, burning being.
  • Cattle Punk: A combination between this and Weird West.
  • City Slicker: Hunter is taken for one.
  • Cool Horse: Diamonds; a badass when he was fully flesh and blood, and even more so as his flesh is gradually replaced by metal.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: The first chapter, "Lookback", is built of these. It juxtaposes Vane and Hunter's (presumably) first meeting with their present day meeting, complete with near-identical poses and almost devoid of dialogue or explanation. Vane's name doesn't even come up until halfway through the next chapter.
  • Deal with the Devil: In the side story "Genevieve", an author trades his soul, one third at a time, for a pen that he will never lose, a light that never goes out, and a limitless supply of ink. Why? Well, he views completing his work as much more important than anything as trifling as a soul, plus, he is a young man, and the price will not come due until after he dies. He finishes justifying this with a line that actually stuns the Eldritch Abomination he is making the deal with: When I am dead, what use will I have for a soul, anyhow?
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The flashback panels, and the entire side story of "Genevieve".
  • De Terminator: Vane doesn't seem to quit easily.
  • Expy: Hunter's beard, pointy hair, and streaks of gray bring to mind Ra's al Ghul.
  • Keeper of Forbidden Knowledge: Mother Harker keeps several books on evil magic under the logic that if the Devil can use the scriptures for evil then they can use his scriptures for good. This ends up backfiring when her knowledge of forbidden magic unleashes the fire spirit contained in Vane.
  • Gaslamp Fantasy
  • Gray-and-Gray Morality: Bordering strongly on Evil Versus Evil. Vane is a borderline Villain Protagonist with ruthless tendencies and committing many morally questionable actions: from causing extensive collateral damage in her pursuit of Hunter and gradually turning her faithful steed into a mechanical abomination to shooting a boy and his dog, killing a young woman trying to protect Hunter, and possibly killing and dissecting her own patients in the past to learn how to cure Hunterís paralysis, while Hunter is a reckless thief with likewise little concern for collateral damage or human lives and he killed several prostitutes in arcane experiments to learn how to resurect Vane. At the same time, though, both are given sympathetic attributes, and their conflict is definitely not at all simple.
  • Good Republic, Evil Empire: Though we donít see much of the conflict between the Empire and the Republic, the Empire is implied to be intolerant of magic users, slandering them as witches while the Republic is much more tolerant of magic users. Somewhat subverted as the Republic is encroaching on the Suntouched who used their magic to help the Republic gain its independence.
  • Harmful Healing: In Wayward it is revealed that Vane was working on a vaccine for Violet Fever. However the strain intended to immunise the body to the disease turned out to be worse than the disease itself. Vane tested this strain on herself and it eventually killed her.
  • Hollywood Cyborg: Diamonds, Vane's horse, has so far lost half its face and both front legs. Vane has replaced all of these with what appear to be steam-powered prosthetics.
  • Ironic Echo: On page 17 of Wayward Hunter justifies killing and experimenting on prostitutes to resurect Vane by saying ďIídíve done anything for you.Ē This is revealed to have been an ironic echo when we learn in a flash back Vane said the exact same thing to justify killing and dissecting her own patients to discover how to repair Hunterís paralysis.
  • Kick the Dog: More like "shoot the dog and also a small child to make a point about how cold you've become".
    • Or "kill the seamstress who's unwilling to kill you with the poisoned pin your enemy blackmailed her into using".
    • Or "shoot the innocent girl who was flirting with your former husband when she tries to defend him from you".
  • Kill It with Fire: Hunter's main mode of attack.
  • Made of Iron: Vane certainly qualifies. So does her horse, Diamonds, in an increasingly literal sense, too. And Hunter seems to have shades of this as well, thanks to his massive build, his fire powers, and his metal spine.
  • Magical Native American: The Sun Touched are coded after various Native American Nations of the Western United States. Likewise they were gifted their ďspirit fireĒ by the trickster god Coyote.
  • Magicians Are Wizards: Hunter once used his fire abilities for a stage magic routine.
  • Masochism Tango: It gradually emerges that Vane and Hunter used to be romantically involved and even married, and still have... feelings of a sort for each other. Vane in particular has very violent ways of expressing them.
  • Odd-Shaped Panel: Panels are occasionally shaped to fit the contours of various Steampunk-style gears, ornate picture frames, photographs, playing cards, tree branches and more.
  • Playing with Fire: Hunter again.
  • Plot-Inciting Infidelity: Hunter cheating on Vane led to the argument that left Hunter paralyzed.
  • Professional Gambler
  • Pragmatic Pansexuality: Hunter is not above seducing women to get what he wants, and as we learn in Via Dolorosa he will also seduce men as well.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: As the page image demonstrates well, Hunter and Black. The main difference is that Hunter, the Red Oni, is the cultured one, a break from most instances of the trope.
  • Scenery Porn: Oh and so much of it, too.
  • The Seven Western Plots: The comic is a Gaslamp Fantasy take on the outlaw and revenge stories, featuring ruthless Bounty Hunter Vane Black relentlessly chasing pyrokinetic outlaw John Henry Hunter for having wronged her in the past.
  • Shout-Out: One character takes on the appearance of Lee Van Cleef's character from For a Few Dollars More, down to the pocket watch. As a bonus that movie also had revenge as a prominent theme.
    • Assisting Lee in his hunt for Hunter are two cowboys: Eli and Flint.
    • In Alex Ivanova of The Sword Interval makes a cameo as a bounty hunter in Fort Fairbanks.
  • Soul Jar: In "Short End" Vane speculates that the source of Hunterís seeming invulnerability is that he has stored his soul somewhere outside of his body but on his person.
  • Southern Gentleman: Hunter has his moments of this.
  • Squishy Wizard: Subverted. Hunter is anything but, in the sense that he's both built like a brick shithouse and seemingly able to shrug off wounds that would kill a normal person in a matter of moments.
  • Title Drop: "I feel sorry for the sonsabitches in the next town over" — said by a sheriff, standing before a burning saloon, watching Vane chase Hunter out of town in the first chapter Page 18, hence referring to the main theme and conflict that only increases as the story progresses.
  • Upgrade Artifact: Hunterís magical powers manifested after Vane removed and replaced his spine with a steel one in order to restore his mobility after accidentally paralyzing him during a heated argument.
  • Victorian Novel Disease: At least one character suspects Vane's got one of these. It's actually because she's Back from the Dead.
  • Weird West: The two main characters are an outlaw pyromancer and a deathly pale, glowy-eyed woman gunslinger who is seemingly impervious to pain or significant injury and who has a knack for machines and steampunk cybernetics. Also has definite elements of Cattle Punk.
  • Wicked Cultured: Hunter fits this trope quite well.
  • Woman Scorned: Vane witnessed Hunter cheating on her with another woman, leading to an argument between the two of them where Vane struck Hunter with the arm of her Mini-Mecha leaving him paralyzed. After Hunter resurrects Vane using his fire magic, she is filled with rage by the knowledge of how he resurrected her that she vows to kill him.
  • The Wild West
  • Trickster God: Coyote is certainly in line with his characterization as a trickster god. He stole spirit fire from the gods and lent it to the Suntouched, and he is also the source of Hunterís fire magic. Who is then granted the spirit fire by Coyote at the end of "The Chimney".