The Department of Truth #1 opens on November 22, 1963, the fateful day in Dallas when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated with Martin Simmonds’ artwork evoking fuzzy video coverage like shots of cryptids or a second shooter on that grassy knoll. As the comic progresses, Simmonds’ visuals and James Tynion IV’s larger premise for the series come into sharper focus, but in the end, there are still more questions than answers. And, honestly, that’s what you want out of an ongoing monthly comic, especially one driven by conspiracies within conspiracies within, well, conspiracies.
A key reason that I enjoyed The Department of Truth #1 was Martin Simmonds’ art. He marries grid layouts with the fully painted art style of Duncan Fegredo and Paul Johnson’s work in the early 1990s or even the panache of David Mack and Bill Sienkiewicz. However, it’s not just pretty pictures or cool compositions but has motion and storytelling weight too. Simmonds can also be a vicious caricaturist, like in his drawing of the Flat Earth Society members that match the dry, snarky narration that Tynion writes for the protagonist, Cole.
You can tell he doesn’t have a high opinion of most of these characters, and it drives his line art and color palette to new heights like a blood red composition of a couple of rich, conspiracy-mongering assholes through Cole’s shades. Everything is more memorable from the perspective of sunglasses, and that goes for both film and comics. Martin Simmonds’ layout choices match the story’s pace with lots of small, skinny panels during interrogation sequences to big splashes for reveals or when he and Tynion want to touch on a big picture theme. I enjoyed Martin Simmonds’ work on the Punks Not Dead comics for IDW as well as his fill-in issue of Immortal Hulk, but Department of Truth is a true level up for him as a cartoonist with him crossing into Sienkiewicz-esque territory with his depiction of corruption, deceit, and maybe once or twice, truth.
Unlike the 1990s when conspiracy theories seemed fun and quirky (Think X-Files.), they have become scarier thanks to folks like QAnon, who bundle their outlandishness and useless misdirection with plenty of white supremacy and anti-Semitism. Tynion is aware of that and bakes in conspiracy’s current right-wing nature while also making references to its let’s say, cuddlier, past starting with the JFK assassination. This conflict and need for finding a happy medium feeds into the book’s underlying theme and also makes it seem more relevant with characters popping up that you might Google to see if they’re not some obscure far-right commentator on one of those websites or premium cable news channels that make Fox almost seem (Emphasis on the almost) fair and balanced. While the plot begins to unfold and the premise is established, James Tynion and Martin Simmonds also delve into the mindset of the conspiracy theorist, and why it’s so attractive. Think Grant Morrison’s Invisibles, but in the age of Pizzagate and 8chan.
The Department of Truth #1 is an engaging debut issue with James Tynion tapping into the expansive worldbuilding of his previous titles like Memetic and its sequels while Martin Simmonds shows that painted art can have a few, new tricks up its sleeves in 2020. They also introduce some actually compelling mysteries and tap into our fearful zeitgeist where believers and spinners of harmful conspiracies have entirely too much power.
Story: James Tynion IV Art: Martin Simmonds Letters: Aditya Bidikar
Story: 8 Art: 9 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy
Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review