I’ve come to see each issue of The Department of Truth as separate episodes in a TV season. After all, it seems to be the way comic books are heading, in terms of their packaging, publishing and promotion. A TV series that has an overarching story-arc, but focuses on individual stories and threats in each issue too. And so this issue’s “monster of the week” is the “free” press and the concept that the news, like my comic book analogy, is a commodity to be packaged and sold. And owned; make more vast profits for the billionaires who own these newspapers and TV channels. What’s more this whole debate takes place amongst shady, opaque talking heads who are knowingly parts of this entertainment industry offshoot. It’s also a scene that goes to prove the old adage, “Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not listening to you.” In The Department of Truth, they usually are.
The back-and-forth dialogue between new recruits Cole and Department head honcho, Lee Harvey Oswald (yes, that, Lee Harvey Oswald; c’mon, where have you been?) feels not only natural but it helps makes these black operatives more human, more relatable. Even if they’re spying in us for a living. Although, it is for our good, as we get a further discussion on the nature and power of conspiracies. Using Barack Obama as a case study! And thus we have our “conspiracy of the month” too.
It is to artist Martin Simmonds huge credit that he makes even the most mundane scenes spectacular. Take that Obama scene, for instance. It’s effectively a one-sided informative discussion, but in Simmonds hands it becomes a half-page panel depicting Obama and the Stars and Stripes, with added scratch and static. The whole issue – and every issue – becomes something of a work of art in itself. A canvas of experimentation and artists expression that makes this one of the more outstanding comics on the shelves. And given a huge amount of this issue’s comic book real estate is taken up on such conversations, an artist like Simmonds is a godsend. Although, don’t get me wrong, the detail James Tynion IV has gone to in researching this series drags you in by your collar and doesn’t let you go. Linking Obama’s ‘Birther’ conspiracy to JFK’s assignation is no easy leap, but in Tynion IV’s hands, he weaves a fascinating tangled web. It’s such a gripping series: Oliver Stone meets Bill Sienkiewicz.
I found there to be something deliciously ironic in an issue wherein the journalist are posed as silhouettes while the real undercover operatives are depicted in full. Although, as the issue progresses all that exposition and explanation takes a darker turn. After all, lest we forget, the Department of Truth is a shady operation much like the CIA or the FBI. And, last time I checked, both of those great American institutions have blood on their hands. Why would this government operation not?
The Department of Truth #4 is another great instalment in this already critically-acclaimed new series. And, while the office talk in this issue purposefully draws you in, it’s all done to better serve the dramatic ending and have you asking, as Cole himself must be, who are the good guys, again?
The Department of Truth #4 is out Wednesday 23rd December from Image Comics