If The X-Files told us the truth was out there, then The Department of Truth #1 informs readers that the truth is still out there, but not is all as it seems and our collective world view is constantly under threat. The kind of threat only a deep state, black opps’ governmental task force can do anything about. Move over Mulder and Scully, there’s a new game in town. All done under the cover of secrecy, of course, and recruiting only the best of the best, such as our reluctant hero, FBI agent Cole Turner, who proceeds to go through the most bizarre interview ever.
Tonally and narratively, It also reminded me of the excellent The Black Monday Murders by Jonathan Hickman and Tom Cokker. But with less diagrams. If The X-Files and The Black Monday Murders had a child, The Department of Truth would be its bastard offspring.
From Flat-Earthers through to the type of nut jobs who still believe the moon landings were faked, I get a feeling before this gripping thriller of a series is over, we’ll be getting a lot of familiar conspiracy theories thrown into the mix too. But, underpinning it all is a narrative theme often explored in popular culture – and a concept at the very heart of all religions and mythologies – but never in this kind of original way, that’s for sure. A new take on an old favourite, and it works exceptionally well in this new context. It could have been a rather hokey concept to build a series upon, but then with Martin Simmonds on art, the daft becomes the dark and dangerous. You can tell both creators are having the times of their lives on this comic.
James Tynion IV’s script cleverly presents this first issue as one drawn-out interview in which Cole is not just interviewed but gently interrogated about his role within the FBI, working with the type of right-wing extremists that do often believe in the more popular conspiracies today. I mean, have you seen the type of folk going on the recent anti-mask protests? A perfect fit for this shady department, then.
Meanwhile, artist Simmonds’ gritty, splattered, layered painted art gives this comic book an appropriately fuzzy, muddy tone that reminded me of the kind of films often made in the 70s before the gloss of the blockbusters won through. The kind of kitchen-sink realism of the films that Peter Biskind writes about in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.
What we get is a grimy and grim alternative history that is easily filled with horrors beyond those we are already plagued with in our own world. An alternative reality in which conspiracies can gain momentum and gain a material hold in the world.
In finding a link between these well-shared, but often easily disproven conspiracies Tynion IV has hit on a most novel story that you cannot help but rise the odd smile to despite yourself. After all, this is a book about conspiracies, and most of those are too dumb to take too seriously. But, not here. And certainly not by the Department of Truth.
Of course, I won’t be the only one to compare Simmonds’ art style to the great Bill Sienkiewicz, but it’s a style that works so well and is evocative of Elektra Assassin, itself a similarly bonkers book to this one. Simmonds is an artist who can adapt his style to suit the story (see Friendo as a great example of this), and so he brings the appropriate style to bare on this project, and in the execution of this first issue creates something rather spectacular that you’ll not see in too many books on the shelves at the moment.
All-in-all, with its central concept of shadowy deep state secret departments and global conspiracies, often fuelled by right-wing fanatics, and neo-liberal backers in the mould of the real-life Kochs brothers, it’s an espionage thriller that will appeal to a good deal of comic book readers, one imagines.
Furthermore, it delivers up one of the most jaw dropping reveals you’ll read this year in comics on its final page! I did not see that one coming. I doubt anyone will, but it sure makes picking up the second issue a must. A mix of rightly-placed paranoia, conspiracy theories and big money that has a little too much of a parallel to our own world which is too uncomfortably to be totally dismissed.
The Department of Truth #1 is due out September 30th from Image Comics