Gasolina is a more-than-meets-the-eye genre-bender, beginning as an unassuming tale of Mexican cartel violence but quickly escalating into something more sinister by the end of the first issue. It follows Randy and Mal, a couple who have relocated to a Mexican sugarcane farm to escape from a checkered past that unsurprisingly doesn’t seem to want to let them go. But what begins in familiar illicit territory leads the pair into conflict with a brutal gang known as Los Queridos and a horrific threat the likes of which the two have never encountered.
Artist Niko Walter brings his unique style, featured most recently in 2016’s gory slasher-thriller Demonic, and carries a similarly dark and foreboding tone to Gasolina. Opting for a “stylized realism”, Walter pairs proportioned figures and convincing expressions with sparse, clean detailing to create an end product that almost looks rotoscoped. At times, this generates faces that look immaculate close-up but seem slightly askew at a distance, but fortunately, the striking, zoomed-in character shots make this occasional awkwardness easy to overlook. Walter also employs some more traditional comic techniques, generously using crosshatched shading throughout the book and applying a Pointilated pattern reminiscent of Ben-Day dots on various background surfaces. This melding of influences, along with the effective use of dark, mood-setting shadows, establishes Gasolina’s art as one of its strong points.
Veteran letterer Rus Wooton brings his craft mastery to Gasolina, elevating the book’s most suspenseful and tension-filled panels. Wooton’s auditory effects possess a guttural accuracy, and his excellent font choices perfectly capture those sounds’ tonalities as well. The book also features some creative layout choices, like using a phone’s toolbar as a gutter when one character shows a series of crime scene photos to another. And the warm earth tones used throughout by Mat Lopes do a fantastic job of conveying the Mexican countryside as a setting (and contrasting harshly with the rich, crimson blood hues that appear throughout).
From a narrative standpoint, the ongoing success of the series will depend upon two things: the twist’s explanation and the motivations of the group behind it, and writer Sean Mackiewicz’s ability to flesh out the book’s thus-far archetypal characters. I left the first issue with a list of traits I could use to describe Randy and Mal but without a real sense of who they are as people. Of course, only so much characterization can happen in 30 pages, and I’m curious to see the pair known as El Doctor and La Asesina show us how they earned those names.
Depending on the direction Mackiewicz chooses to go with Los Queridos and their “unorthodox” methods, Gasolina has the makings of a unique and thrilling genre mashup. While Mackiewicz may be much better known for his work as an editor, he has done a fantastic job in this first issue of establishing a compelling story hook that should bring readers back for more. Unless a blend of cartel crime and body horror generally sounds like an unappealing combo to you, Gasolina #1 definitely packs enough intrigue to warrant your attention. 4/5
Story: Sean Mackiewicz
Art / Cover: Mat Lopes, Niko Walter