The Department Of Truth #1 Review: What Do You Believe?

Oct 1, 2020

JFK. The moon landings. The Flat Earth Society.

Conspiracy theories offer alternate explanations to real word events and scenarios, usually with elements of plausibility that don't always withstand scrutiny, where 'believers' impose their own narrative onto something to make it more aligned to their worldview, generating more comfortable, reassuring answers than the reality of their situation may provide. They frequently involve shady governments or shadowy organisations working behind the scenes to ensure the truth is never revealed, and we're seeing them run rampant at the moment, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, from the belief that 5G towers are spreading the virus to the ramblings of the anti-mask brigade.

The greatest conspiracy theories - the JFK assassination, the Roswell incident - are endlessly fascinating regardless of their plausibility, the more creative and outlandish the better, and even the sanest of us can't deny the dramatic appeal behind the idea of the rich and powerful colluding in secret to keep the global populace controlled and malleable.

Current Batman writer James Tynion IV clearly understands the abundant storytelling potential that comes from the unseen and unknown, whether it be behind closed doors in high-rise office blocks or down dark, seedy backstreets, and in The Department Of Truth he takes the notion of conspiracy theories as popular fringe myth-making and runs with it.

Opening in Texas 1963, with a mysterious stranger visiting Lee Harvey Oswald following his arrest, it quickly jumps forward to the present day where FBI analyst Cole Turner finds his investigations lead him into dangerous territory as he discovers there may be more than one shadowy organisation at play but they aren't all be invested in exposing their version of the 'truth'.

 It's an intelligent, insightful script that shows a deep understanding of its subject matter, covering the spectrum from the nonsensical opinions spouted by the crackpots and nutjobs through to the undeniable allure of discovering a secret explanation to something that's never felt quite right. Using an interview as a framing device, with Turner as the reluctant interviewee, it efficiently introduces us to a world where figures emerge from shadows with potential enlightenment and the seemingly impossible is documented with indisputable truth. Although much of the 'action' centres on two characters sitting across a table from each other it retains a compelling momentum through the rhythm of the narrative and it's not without moments where there is effective physical incident on display.

To keep the whole enterprise enthralling requires an artist of significant talent, one who can bring this world to vivid life, and Martin Simmonds meets that requirement and then surpasses it. The art here is stunning, tonally matching the creeping darkness on the periphery with splashes of colour to emphasise the moments where things take a turn for the surreal, a blurred lack of definition at points giving the impression the truth of it all is there but just out of reach. Then there's the eyes of the characters which are often portrayed as indistinct and indefinable, as though we're being asked not to trust what we think we can see (a notion carried through to the JFK cover?).

It concludes with a startling final page shocker of the kind that Brian K. Vaughan is so adept at, in that it explodes the possibilities of the concept outwards into unexpected directions, creating an immediate need to see where the creators will take things next.

It's the best debut issue I've read in a long time.

And that's the truth.


THE DEPARTMENT OF TRUTH #1
Writer: James Tynion IV
Art: Martin Simmonds
Image Comics $3.99

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