Recently, I had a chance to grab the first volume of The Department of Truth from my local library. The volume’s larger story, about a secret organization that prevents conspiracy theories from manifesting as truth, intrigued me. However, the intense, personal story in the volume’s middle chapter is what really sold me on adding DoT to my must-read pile.
Issue three of Department of Truth focuses on Mary, the mother of a boy killed in a school shooting. Mary is beset by people who believe the shooting in which her son was killed was staged. Attacks on her house force her to move to a gated community. Attacks on her already-fragile mind leave her vulnerable to the TV personalities and netizens claiming she and her son were crisis actors.
And then, a not-possibly-real but incredibly authentic video arrives at Mary’s doorstep:
From there, the issue becomes a sprint through the mind of a mother who is so distraught, who wants her son back so much, that she begins attempting to believe the lies the world is telling about her. Because if those lies were true, her son might still be alive. As readers, we know that if Mary actually comes to believe she and her son were crisis actors, it could become true. And thus, Mary’s son might actually come back to life.
So which do you want? A world where a mother is reunited with her son but false flag shootings exist, or the truth? That’s the decision series protagonist Agent Cole Turner must make, as he and his partner enter Mary’s life.
This chapter of The Department of Truth reminded me of some of the best issues of The Sandman, in which Neil Gaiman and co. diverted from the series’s main story to tell a gripping, standout one-off tale. Just like those issues of Sandman, this issue of Department of Truth is an artistic tour-de-force. Artist Martin Simmonds paces this issue beautifully, keeping the pages that focus on real-world action tight and flowing, while opening things up in the double- or single-page splashes that focus on Mary’s thoughts and mental state. Those two sets of pages also have wildly different color schemes, ensuring each splash hits especially hard.
Also on point is Aditya Bidikar’s brilliant lettering, in which people’s statements, beliefs, and questions continually escape the bubbles in which they’re supposed to be contained. Check out this panel of Mary yelling, trying to force herself to believe her son isn’t dead, to see an example of what I mean:
The Department of Truth contains many of the hallmarks of a hit longform series. It has stylized art that doesn’t sacrifice storytelling, it has intriguing characters, and it has mystery upon mystery upon mystery built into its overarching plot. But more importantly, for me, The Department of Truth is willing to dig past its high concept to the real, personal consequences that would result from it. As I think we’ve all learned in the past decade, conspiracy theories aren’t just stories. They shape the world, individual people’s actions, and individual people’s lives in very real ways. If we can expect to see more tales like this, in which we see how the series’s larger story impacts the lives of singular, normal people, I think The Department of Truth could become a series that describes our times.