Following the literal climb through the corporate ladder of an evil energy monopoly, Image’s Ghostcage deals with the consequences of human activity and the horrific developments that occur as a result. Written by Nick Dragotta and Caleb Goellner and featuring art by Dragotta, this book follows Doyle, a blindly loyal energy employee, and Sam, an artificial intelligence, as they seek to prevent disruption to Ohm’s power supply on orders from company founder Mister Karloff. Originally thought to be the work of corporate espionage, the attack on Ohm facilities reveals a much deeper and more sinister force at work: money.
Story-wise, this book has a lot of promise. Humans have long exploited the planet and its resources for personal gain, something that has only accelerated under capitalist systems since the Industrial Revolution. As Sam and Doyle work their way up through the various levels of Ohm’s facilities, they come across the personification of this exploitation: kaiju-like creatures made of coal, oil, the hydro, wind, nuclear, and solar energy. Having to fight their way through the chokehold of polluters and gain insight into more sustainable energy is the only way that Sam and Doyle are able to survive and achieve their goals. But they soon realize that this structure of energy production was established by Ohm to achieve their oppressive goals, keeping humans subjugated and turned into energy sources themselves through the Ohm-produced new energy source of mortiplasma.
This book hits on a lot of key points about the world we live in and its future. Corporatization of essential human needs in our modern world, such as energy production, is a common threat to our existence, as is the servitude expected to our corporate/work lives. While the depiction of these topics in Ghostcage is over-the-top, the threat in our actual world is still very real. Doyle’s full devotion to her corporate life, devoid of a social life or any real freedom, wasn’t born out of a dedication to the system but rather out of crushing debt that she needs to work overtime to pay off. She had convinced herself that she was happy being miserable in service to a corporate overlord, even though she knew she’d be much happier working on the farm she inherited from her parents and for which she was now in debt. Debt is a debilitating force in our world and often wholly unavoidable; Doyle’s life is not dissimilar from our own.
Artistically, there are several highlights (most notably, the designs of the energy kaijus). However, the art can feel overly dense, often making it hard to tell what is being depicted. This lack of clarity in the art leads to a loss in storytelling that the visual depictions were meant to contribute to. This ultimately leads to gaps and pacing issues in the progression of the story that a more succinct and straightforward art style might have resolved. Having read this story for the first time as a trade paperback, I suspect that this problem was likely even more aggravated by splitting it into issues separated by time.
Ghostcage is a futuristic story about modern life. While there are issues with the artistic depictions, ultimately, the message is presented forcefully. The story of Doyle, Sam, and the other figures of the Ohm power plant will ring true with many people living in our world today. The exploitation of our world can spell our doom, and Ghostcage challenges us to face that truth head-on. Its new presentation in trade paperback format will help tell this story in a more encompassing manner.