Ghost Cage #1 Review: Growing Up Tall and Proud in the Shadow of the Mushroom Cloud

Ghost Cage #1 promises its readers a poltergeist of the 21st century. A city runs outward in all directions from a gargantuan smokestack – an energy plant that drives all things independent of concern for humanity. Within the tower are stacks of power, rising from coal to nuclear, and endless cubicles for those who keep it operating. It's a terrifying collection of concrete and electricity that renders the one recognizable human being, Dwight, in the midst of it all as a minor cog in a great machine with the holographic Father dominating all.

Comparisons to Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira are inevitable considering the thematic and visual influences the iconic manga possesses. Artist Nick Dragotta embraces megalithic metropolises, but removes any point of reference as the city he depicts is simply "the city" rather than Neo-Tokyo. It is humanity transformed into a machine in need of endless power to continue. As soon as that power ceases the complaints begin. Although it has been more than 30 years since Otomo's epic concluded, the dystopian future it outlined has only become more real in the interim and Ghost Cage #1 highlights that descent by further exaggerating the aesthetics while its narrative speeds along.

(Photo: Image Comics)

The story begins with the city's towering power plan failing. Unseen terrorists are blamed for the power going out and Father sends his newest creation Sam, a humanoid form dominated by a massive eyeball for its head, into the facility to seemingly solve the problem. Sam is tasked with battling the forms on each level of the plant beginning with Coal, while Dwight, a lone technician plucked from obscurity, aims to support them. It's obvious from the start that all is not as it seems, even before another strange form named Trouble appears to increase the havoc.

This narrative structure guarantees the action and exploration will never slow. Each new level of the plant provides fascinating and powerful forms for the power generated at that level. Dragotta delivers a looming, charred form for Coal and fluid ferocity for Hydro. Each of their battles with Sam is distinct, demanding readers take their time with each new panel as they savagely resist Sam's absorptive abilities. 

Dragotta's sense of scale is instantly recognizable. Each spread in Ghost Cage makes the city seem as though it covers a significant portion of the planet as if every city has merged to become this City. Sprawling clouds and nearly endless arrays of details ensure readers linger on the largest panels to ponder all that is present. 

Yet these daunting landscapes are rare in comparison to the close-up panels that detail each new figure in Sam's journey. Dragotta characterizes the characters, human and inhuman alike, through a detailed examination of figures. Coal and Hydro are metaphors made real and help readers imagine what Sam might represent as more demands are placed upon him. Dwight is defined by the many burdens they carry and their reflective glasses covering their eyes. The raw visual data filling each page is astounding and provides additional depth with each subsequent read. Even before it's clear how this story views its subjects, their appearances provide plenty of information.

Ghost Cage #1 is an astonishing introduction to Dragotta and Caleb Goellner's vision of the future. It's a dystopia defined by metaphorical imaginings of raw power – each more potent than the last. Where Sam's quest through the layers of this impossibly large power plant will lead is uncertain, just like his own nature. Wherever it leads, it is already contemplating humanity's twisted relationship with concepts that proffer potential while demanding an enormous price. Those ideas demand attention, but even without that potent core, Dragotta's stunning creations and energized battles would be sufficient to keep all eyes glued on Ghost Cage through its conclusion.

Published by Image Comics

On March 23, 2022

Written by Nick Dragotta and Caleb Goellner

Art by Nick Dragotta

Letters by Rus Wooton

Cover by Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin Jr.