Flip through Nick Dragotta (artist/co-writer) and Caleb Goellner’s (co-writer) Ghost Cage #1 and it’s incredibly easy to get swept up in it. Dragotta’s black and white artwork creates this world of wonder, monsters, and mysteries. The art itself sells the book. Dragotta’s East of West (written by Jonathan Hickman in his pre-Krakoan days) showed a lot of the same influences and style but he cranks up the visual excitement in this new first issue.
Channeling his inner Katsuhiro Otomo, Dragotta’s drawings capture the raw energy that Otomo had in Akira and Domu, where every image and panel just hummed with potential energy until Otomo just poured everything into a page to blow our minds. Dragotta is doing the same thing here, building up excitement in every consecutive panel until these moments where he releases it all, drawing pages that are pure adrenaline rushes. Without any color to distract from Dragotta’s linework, he draws images that crackle with life. From fear to awe to anger and exasperation, his images express the energy of these emotions and feelings. Like the best and most fun manga that Dragotta draws his inspiration from, the highly emphatic art sweeps you into this story.
The story in that artwork is basically a giant fight comic, where a mega-corp power plant is under attack so that “the super-scientist who revolutionized and controls all energy on Earth sends his ultimate creation (and an adequate employee) in to destroy his monstrous secrets.” At least, that’s what’s supposed to be happening here according to the solicitation blurb for this issue. And sure, that’s all there in the story but the story feels like it’s secondary to the artwork; it’s there in service of the artwork instead of the other way around. There’s some kind of critique about big business and the powerful and cult-like personalities behind them but it’s weird that the design of this industrial Svengali looks a lot like a character that was in East of West. Both manipulative and scheming characters share the same Colonel Sanders but more dangerous vibe, including white goatees and mustaches that cross weird wires and feel like weird choices. Where every other character in this story has a unique design that reflects their roles in the story, this design just distracts from it.
The artwork and all of its verve almost disguise the feeling that the story is a bit ab undercooked homage to all of the manga, anime, and comics that Dragotta and Goellner are influenced by. There are those Akira vibes from the artwork, a bit of a Neon Genesis Evangelion feel, and let’s just throw in a helping of Frank Miller’s Ronin into this stew while we're at it. This is a monster story that tries to have some social commentary about big business and its lack of concern over its workers. Remember that “adequate employee” from the solicitation text? That’s Doyle, the tech support who’s tasked to help out the “ultimate creation.” As a true-blue believer in the company he works for, Doyle jumps at the opportunity to prove himself to his corporate leader even as the rest of his fellow employees are running away for their lives. “You want that promotion? You want to climb the ladder?” the super-scientist barks at Doyle as motivation even as he calls Doyle “Boil” or “Oil” or “Toil” or anything that just rhymes with his actual name.
Ghost Cage #1 is about as socially deep as you would expect an Image Comic to be. Meaning it’s all flash and bang sleight of hand. It’s satire without much bite yet but that may just be first issue blues as Gragotta and Goellner appear to have loftier goals for this series. And in a lot of ways, it doesn’t matter as the artwork is worth the price of admission here ($5.99 US but it is an extra-sized issue.) Dragotta’s art sweeps you up into it, pulling you into this comic of heroes and monsters and maybe even monstrous heroes fighting. If for nothing else, check out this comic just to see how Dragotta tells a story through scale here, creating so much tension simply through the way he composes his drawings to make you feel small as you encounter these creatures.