The prison has been built upon an A.I.M toxic waste dump. This is what gave the Ringmaster his increased powers, and he has had the prisoners excavate the materials to maintain his increased abilities. It's also been killing the prisoners, and Luke Cage is now working them along with his friend, Acosta.
I have to say again how disappointed I am that this series is coming to an end. I've loved it, I love Luke Cage, and I think Mr. David F. Walker is an immensely talented writer who deserves more out of this industry than he's currently getting.
Saying all this is unfortunately undercut somewhat by Luke Cage #168 being the weakest issue out of this series so far. I'm going to have to list the flaws of this issue, when, in reality, I want everyone to give this book a massive surge that somehow saves it. Giving this book a less-than-stellar review won't really help that happen.
However, honesty comes first, and Luke Cage #168 is easily the least interesting book of this run. We learn of the vague material that is helping Ringmaster and killing prisoners sent to the mine. I didn't really need a heart to this mystery; it could have just been left at "Ringmaster sends people to the mines to die, and he has the power to do that now because mutation/training/deus ex machina." However, this issue practically surrounds this material and its effects.
There is something to be said here about the exploitation of prison labor, the inherent cruelty of the American prison system, and how a natural resource boom like oil can completely change a town. "Caged!" has been doing a good job of touching on this subject so far, but this issue tries to bring it more to the forefront in a manner that just isn't that interesting.
You're also waiting with baited breath for Luke Cage to finally come to his senses and beat the tar out of some SOB's. It comes close to delivering that towards the end, but it is cut short by the end-of-issue cliffhanger: a cave-in.
This issue just isn't that interesting, and it doesn't have enough Luke Cage in it to pull through on the sheer charm of the main character. While the overall plot of "Caged!" is engaging and could still deliver a good continuation next issue, this book was just dull.
Guillermo Sanna's art remains gritty and full of personality. He plays with shadows quite well in this one, and the details are never skimped on. Miroslav Mrva is the color artist, and he plays with paler, more washed-out colors to give the world a cold and hard feeling.
While the plot has been good to "Caged!" for the most part, and Sanna's artwork has done wonders for the book visually, Luke Cage #168 is easily the weakest issue of David F. Walker's series with the character. It's slow, uninteresting, and doesn't have much of a payoff. Unfortunately, I have to recommend giving this issue a pass and coming back with #169. I trust Walker, Sanna, and company to make that one a better comic.