The Department of Truth puts a disturbing twist on conspiracy theories—one that touches uncomfortably close to reality. The new Image series by James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds comes out less than 2 months before the American presidential election. American politics (and, really, politics in general) have always peddled in lies and half-truths, but it feels like one of the stakes of this election is whether the truth holds any weight in American society today. This president in particular seems to delight in discrediting any organization with a narrative that doesn't paint him as the most successful president in history—during his four years in office, he has targeted his military, the media, and many non-partisan federal organizations in an attempt to establish himself as the ultimate voice of truth. Perhaps, this is why nearly a third of Republicans (per a recent poll) believe that the president is secretly hunting pedophilic cannibals lurking among the circles of the elite.
While The Department of Truth #1 doesn't touch on Trump or the QAnon conspiracy by name, it is undoubtedly a political comic book—one that explores a rather disturbing concept that seems both outlandish and sadly near reality. The series' premise deals with the somewhat contradicting relationship between truth and belief, and whether one can truly cancel out the other. The Department of Truth follows Cole Turner, an FBI agent specializing in conspiracy theories, who discovers an elite cabal while attending a flat earth conference. What he sees at the conference shocks him, and leads to his recruitment by the Department of Truth, a shadow-y government organization designed to keep those conspiracies in check.
While The Department of Truth immerses itself in the weird world of conspiracy theories, it doesn't touch (at least in the first issue) on the idea that ties all of these disparate threads together. Conspiracy theories are bred out of a distrust in authority—a conscious rejection of the facts that inform our zeitgeist. The current US president was elected due to that distrust, and his followers' willing belief in conspiracy theories shows how much that distrust informs him. It's hard to determine, after just one issue, whether Tynion and Simmonds are choosing to skirt around that foundational idea or if they deliberately pitted these conspiracy theories against a federal law enforcement entity—the embodiment of authority itself. I feel this series will be defined by just how critically the creative team explores the ideas that truly drive conspiracy theories—if they choose to engage on only a surface level (while sticking mainly to commentating on the politics of past historical eras), it'll wind up as another half-remembered Image series. However, if Tynion and Simmonds keep digging, this could become something special.
The Department of Truth focuses on weird stuff, driven along with a gritty, psychadelic art style that uses a combination of traced photographs and distortions to provide an uncomfortable effect. The artwork spends most of its time in a state of un-focus, which makes the jarring experiences Turner faces even more unsettling. Although The Department of Truth is missing much of the vivid coloring that defines some of Martin Simmonds' other work, he still makes this comic feel a lot more scary and upsetting than it would be under another artist's care. I also appreciate that the comics' most defining moments could only happen in a comic book—Simmonds takes full advantage of the strengths of this medium, with a few effects that couldn't be replicated on film or TV.
After just one issue, it's hard to tell exactly what The Department of Truth is trying to say. It has picked a sadly relevant topic in our current moment, and it doesn't seem to be afraid to actually dig a bit instead of treating conspiracy theories as harmless fictional fodder. However, we'll see just how far down the proverbial rabbit hole The Department of Truth is willing to go—it will have to really peel back the layers to possess some meaningful impact.
Published by Image Comics
On September 30, 2020
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Martin Simmonds
Letters by Aditya Bidikar
Design by Dylan Todd
Cover by Martin Simmonds