From writer/artist Nick Dragotta (East Of West) and co-writer Caleb Goellner (Sonic The Hedgehog) comes a manga-inspired masterpiece first issue in Ghost Cage #1. A comic that is part socio-political satire, part Otomo pastiche, and all massive action, this comic is a 10-megaton gut-punch of visual storytelling. With a sharp & fun script and absolutely astounding visuals, this is likely the most impressive comic of 2022 thus far.
“When his megacorp power plant falls under attack by terrorists, the super-scientist who revolutionized and controls all energy on Earth sends his ultimate creation (and an adequate employee) in to destroy his most monstrous secrets.”
Writing & Plot
It’s honestly easy to forget that Ghost Cage #1 is a Western comic and not a manga chapter. If you’ve read East Of West, then you’re already well-aware of Dragotta’s highly Otomo-influenced art style. Here. his and co-writer Caleb Goellner’s writing is a specifically Western-tinged pastiche of Otomo’s work on Akira. While cyberpunk has always been a criticism/warning of the endgame of late-stage capitalism, Ghost Cage confronts this element with a noticeably more direct approach. The scummy greed of the megacorp-owning multi-trillionaire isn’t reflected by background environmental storytelling like in Akira or Bladerunner. Here, this corruption is the main plot device. A naïve and hopelessly dedicated employee is directed by her uber-boss to maintain his magnum opus – a semi-sentient energy source/robot designed to kill off all other power sources. All of these other power sources exist basically as kaiju, and this new creation and its maintenance buddy have to ascend the megacorp’s massive tower to kill each one. It’s easily the best utilization of manga & anime style and structure I’ve ever seen replicated in a Western comic.
Dragotta and Goellner maintain the cynical, and over-the-top atmosphere largely through the stylized dialogue. Our main antagonist, the ultra-rich scientist and .0001 percenter, is almost cartoonishly evil at points, but is then undercut by moments of being genuinely sinister. The writing takes constant swings at faux-friendly corporate culture with hapless, hopeful employees being taken advantage of in the name of profit. They handle this in the comic’s uniquely styled dialogue that, in all honestly, could pass for localized Japanese. I say this positively. This is an effective satire and tribute all in one because of its stylistic choices in terms of its writing – and as we’re about to discuss, its art.
Not since opening the pages of Akira or the late master Kentaro Miura’s Berserk have I been so impressed by a black & white comic as I am with Ghost Cage #1. Nick Dragotta goes absolutely full-bore on every page of this book, with break-neck action and monolithic scenes that will stay with you long after reading. Much like his work on East Of West, every character has an instantaneously memorable design that perfectly matches their demeanor. The robotic creation and his backpack and puffy jacket-clad “babysitter” have the potential to be the most memorable duo in comics this year, based on design alone. This is to say nothing of the other massive creations.
The influence of mangaka has been the best thing to happen to action in Western comics since the medium’s birth. With this comic, Dragotta has joined the ranks of Daniel Warren Johnson, James Stokoe, and Tradd Moore in utilizing that Japanese influence to make unbelievably kinetic action sequences with unimaginable scale. Dragotta uses these huge, sweeping movements of massive size and force and combines them with that signature magna-styled action feel that can be traced all the way back to Dragonball Z to make something that feels like it’s kicking you in the jaw while you’re reading it. The black & white color choice just emphasizes this further. The lack of color allows you to focus on the raw force of movement generated by Dragotta’s pencils. It’s absolutely astounding, and if you don’t like black & white comics then…I don’t know, read some good manga then come back, because you need to. The lettering feels like a part of the art in a way letters rarely do. The fonts are legible and shift like liqud based on the tone of the speaker. The real treat though is the SFX lettering, which almost disappears into the panel as part of the art. It gets sandwiched and smashed between colliding objects and it looks so natural while it happens. Visually, this comic is an absolute masterwork through and through.
Ghost Cage #1 is a tour de force of comics talent, with smart stylized writing and incredible art making for the biggest surprise of the year so far. Nick Dragotta and Caleb Goellner’s script stays on the more fun side of socio-political satire, with slick manga-esque dialogue that’s fun to read while never overstaying its welcome. Dragotta’s art is immense and stunning, with massive hyper-kinetic action scenes being offset by memorable quieter character moments, all in a captivating black & white finish. This comic is the perfect pastiche of Otomo-style Japanese cyberpunk that utilizes Dragotta and Goellner’s own unique sensibilities to create something truly phenomenal. Do yourself a favor and grab this issue when it hits shelves on March 23rd!