The Wild West in Erin Mehlos' webcomic The Next Town Over isn't quite the one from the spaghetti westerns. The most wanted outlaw kills not with a gun, but with the mystical fire from his own hands. People can come back from the dead, provided there's enough rage in their hearts. Wounded horses can be transformed into steampunk cyborgs or fiery demons. But at its heart is a familiar story: the flight of an outlaw from a hunter out for revenge. And plenty of people—and horses—will get hurt in the hunt.
John Henry Hunter is suave and charming outlaw, flamboyantly dressed and bold enough to talk his way into just about anything—or at least try. Wherever he goes, he leaves a trail of embers in his wake, and at least once, it seems, he left a very angry woman. Miss Black burst from her coffin at her funeral, and she's been chasing Hunter ever since.
Mehlos keeps the comic low on dialogue and focuses on her rich visuals. Miss Black is more the Man with No Name than a plucky girl heroine. Her sole goal is to see Hunter dead, and she won't let anything get in her way, not compassion, not the law, not her increasingly crumbling horse. (Luckily, Miss Black, in addition to being a soul ripped right from hell, is a talented steampunk blacksmith.) She's not heroic. She's not helping out orphans or taking down outlaws. She just wants her man. There is some backstory there, but Mehlos is pulling the carpet back very slowly, giving us the occasional moment of flashback.
But even if the encounters between Hunter and Black are heavy on action, Mehlos doesn't forget that there are other characters in this western fantasy universe. Hunter is a wanted man, and the bounty on his head just keeps going up. There are plenty of folks who will risk becoming crispy fried cowboy to collect it. There are casualties in Miss Black's search, taken in at first by her sickly looks. And there are people who have their own stories that occasionally intersect with Hunter and Black's.
What's particularly interesting about The Next Town Over is that we don't know yet what type of ending we're rooting for. Are Hunter and Black former lovers headed for a reconciliation? Does Black deserve the rage that drove her back from the dead? And will the bodies they leave in their wake be worth her revenge?