The webcomic Tozo: The Public Servant takes Hergé's visual style and transports it to a retrofuturistic universe where a murdered bureaucrat draws an earnest public servant-and his robot companion-into a web of political and religious conspiracies.

The tone for David O'Connell's Tozo is neatly set by the name of the city-state in which it is set: Nova Venezia. It's a Moebius-flavored city of grand architecture, airships (that alt-history staple), and, of course, the canals.


It's a charming mix of eras and genres with steam-powered vehicles that escape the steampunk aesthetic, a sinister figure who travels by robotic spider-legged egg chair, wisecracking miniature androids, and fatal femmes who seem borrowed from both Victorian thrillers and Indiana Jones.

It's in this world that we meet the comparatively simple figure of Tozo, a Nova Venezian detective inspector. "I am a public servant," he explains in the comic's opening panel. "Do not ask me to understand or comment on the workings of my masters – the rulers of this island city. Just believe that they work for the greater good."

But of course, Tozo's worldview can't remain that simple for long. Political and religious tensions are straining Nova Venezia as its doge maintains an uneasy peace with the ominously named Spider Empire, run by the mysterious Eternal Widow, the allegedly immortal focal point of the Spider faith. When forces conspire to place Tozo on the investigation of a murdered bureaucrat, he begins to unravel the threads that so delicately hold the city together – and is thrown in the path of secret societies, political revolutionaries, and Nova Venezia's own papacy, which vies with the secular doge for power over the island.

Although Tozo is told in a familiar, straightforward fashion, it's proving to be a wonderfully complex tale of intrigue, one where few characters' motives are clear. Tozo himself is, in contrast, a refreshing combination of forthright and competent, but not unshaken by the realization that his world has more shades of gray than he ever expected. And the revelation of more mystical elements promise to add a new, wonderful series of complications to the tale.

[Tozo: The Public Servant]