The Department Of Truth occupies the center of a Venn diagram made up of overtly political comics and those that are focused on the power of the human mind. It’s not a comfortable position to be in; both categories touch on heavy topics that have real-world consequences. In the hands of graceless or less empathetic creators, comics like this often feel ham-fisted and ungainly—or worse, actively damaging to both the readers and subjects they’re trying to confront. Happily, that’s far from the case here.
The titular Department Of Truth has been firmly established in the first two issues of this title, a government organization tasked with tracking conspiracy theories and eradicating ones that become dangerous. The central conceit of the book is that widespread belief in something untrue starts to warp the shape of reality itself, and the Department Of Truth is tasked with resolving the fallout from that distortion. Former FBI Agent Cole has been recruited into this mysterious group, and this issue finds him going out into his first field mission. The first two issues dealt largely with conspiracy theories either from the past or that feel largely harmless at first glance: the Satanic panic of the 1980s, flat-earthers, and moon-landing truthers. But the third issue is the story of a woman whose child was murdered in a school shooting, and the trauma she endures when people start to believe that she was a paid crisis actor. It’s raw and achingly exposed, a vulnerable soft spot that makes every page feel like a fresh punch on top of an old bruise.
Writer James Tynion IV dives deep into the confusion and pain the woman is grappling with, as well as the isolation she’s forced into as more and more people buy into the conspiracy theory that she helped to fabricate her own child’s death. Because of the ongoing and violent real-world echoes of this particular idea, the issue probably could have benefitted from a content warning, but it’s been clear from the jump that this book isn’t intended for anything other than an adult audience. It feels very much like the early days of Vertigo, pushing at the edges of what comics are capable of in all the right ways. Martin Simmonds’ art leans into the tradition of books like The Sandman, with atmospheric and painterly pages that are highly textured and defined by deep blacks. Faces are blurred or obscured, only to be brought into sharp relief a few panels later, and the shape of the space around characters can feel ill-defined, shifting. It’s unsettling in all the right ways, helping readers to feel just as lost and off-kilter as Cole does when he’s drawn further into untruths and re-realities.
This isn’t going to be the right book for people looking for escapist adventure or an immediately brighter worldview. It’s a far better fit for fans of true-crime podcasts and readers who enjoy comics like Days Of Hate and Citizen Jack, explorations of the big questions of Who We Are and How We Got Here. Though flat-earthers may not be able to actually reshape the planet to something other than a sphere, there is real power in collective belief, and especially the idea that something that has the potential to be true is equally as important as the truth itself. The team behind The Department Of Truth couldn’t have anticipated how timely this book would be, given the state of the world this year, but they’ve done an exceptional job displaying the fear that disbelief can bring, and how easy it is to disrupt reality by questioning our understanding of it.