While diary comics and graphic medicine anthologies surrounding the events of the last year have been in plentiful supply fiction – particularly fiction focusing on established characters with a long-running history – has been in far shorter supply. Death Machine & Gravy Train Stay Indoors is a welcome return to the world of Josh Hicks’s Glorious Wrestling Alliance, although in this case it’s a very enclosed and claustrophobic world as we revisit two of the series’ most popular characters stuck together in a kind of quarantine sitcom hell.
For those unfamiliar with Glorious Wrestling Alliance it’s a much-loved comedy-drama series set around the titular franchise and full of some of the oddest characters to ever enter the ring. Hicks published a number of minicomics before releasing a handsome hardcover collection of all the material to date a couple of years back (reviewed here at BF). Comprising comedy set pieces, ongoing storylines, and an engaging, offbeat cast of gladiatorial showpeople it’s built up a loyal following of readers over the last few years.
Death Machine & Gravy Train Stay Indoors finds a rare humour in situations that many will find extremely familiar. This unlikely double act features two of the more prominent members of the GWA players. Death Machine’s belligerence in the fight game arena masks his frustrations as a would-be poet outside it. Gravy Train is one of the quirkier members of the alliance – a literal walking, human gravy boat. Trapped together in lockdown, tensions rise between the two when Gravy Train looks to emulate Death Machine’s poetic pretensions, leading to a growing resentment that threatens to break out into something all the more explosive…
There’s something that borders on the meta in Hicks’s witty (mostly) two-hander character piece (one sublimely underplayed line about getting work into anthologies in particular brought a wide smile to my face) but the joy of Death Machine & Gravy Train Stay Indoors lies in its familiarity, no matter how bizarre events on the page get. Those early awkward grapplings with Zoom meetings, the laboured attempts to find new ways to present content, stifling confinement, creative inactivity, and that awful moment when you realised for the first time that the alcohol had run out. That he manages to find such wonderful, absurd humour in those circumstances without even a hint of bad taste is a testament to Hicks’s comedic cartooning talents and the ultimate humanity of his characters, despite their outlandish appearances.
Hicks’s visuals retain their usual appealing clarity and clear linework with the unexpected addition of full colour bringing an extra dimension to this short. Check out his use of four-panel grids too. It’s a format that showcases his ever expert comic timing to its greatest effect. If you have never read a Glorious Wrestling Alliance comic before the good news here is that you need zero prior knowledge of the previous comics. Death Machine & Gravy Train Stay Indoors is entirely accessible as a complete-in-one offering. One that finds the most endearing slapstick humour from these darkest of times.
Review by Andy Oliver