Agent Cole Turner has seen a lot of strange things; when you study conspiracy theories for the FBI, it just comes with the territory. But then he’s faced with what seems like validation of one of those conspiracy theories, and shortly afterward, he meets a woman with Xs for eyes. Then he’s recruited into the Department of Truth, a secret government agency dedicated to preserving the truth despite the evolution of popular belief. But are they actually the good guys? Cole’s world continues to pull out from under him, the deeper he gets into all of this.
What hits first with this comic is the art. It is incredible, strange, and distinctive, making it the perfect accompaniment to the story. It’s strongly reminiscent of David W. Mack’s work (check out Kabuki to get an idea of his style), with dreamlike swirls and heavy textures that make everything feel surreal. In The Department of Truth’s case, the art flexes with the story, sometimes looking like an old tape recording that’s maybe a little burned from exposure to light, or a nightmare sequence inside Cole’s mind, or capturing the righteous rage of a right wing pundit. It captures emotions like rage and fear beautifully, though sometimes misses a bit with quieter moments.
And on that note, there are some things to consider with this comic. It deals in conspiracy theories, and is set in the last year or so, meaning that things like the Sandy Hook shooting are referenced, as are figures like Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones. It examines what makes people think that way, and it’s not delicate about it. This comic is pretty hard-hitting about the kinds of people who believe things like the “birther” conspiracy that Obama isn’t a natural born US citizen, and why those people might want that to be true. There are a lot of ethical questions raised, really, and the comic uses Cole well to explore them, but that doesn’t make it easier to read. As such, the comic could be subject to some community upset, depending on your library’s makeup. There are also references to pedophilia and the Satanic Panic, with its related theories.
That being said, The Department of Truth is absolutely worth reading and adding to your collection. It’s a fantastic addition to the government conspiracy/spy genre, and the writing is phenomenal. The reader is falling down the rabbit hole with Cole as he uncovers more and more layers to what may or may not be the truth. The narrative weaves so many classic and new conspiracy theories together, creating a horrifying and believable story (to a certain degree of course). It does rely on the reader knowing a lot of context though, because as I mentioned earlier events and people aren’t named, which is a smart choice for multiple reasons, but means there’s more inference for the reader to make.
The Department of Truth is a fantastic choice for an adult graphic novel collection, and a great suggested reading option for fans of true crime and spy media, especially if they liked the more morally difficult options in those genres. Because it is an intense read, I can’t say I’d recommend it to everyone, but it would be great for fans of series like Lady Killer or Stillwater as well.
The Department of Truth, vol. 1: The End of the World
By James Tynion IV
Art by Martin Simmonds
Image Comics, 2021
Publisher Age Rating: M
Series ISBNS and Order
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Representation: Gay