Writer: James Tynion IV; Artist: Martin Simmonds; Letterer: Aditya Bidikar; Designer: Dylan Todd; Editor: Steve Foxe.
Potential SPOILERS ahead. You’ve been warned.
*Tulpa - an idea brought to life by the power of thought (you'll need to know this word when I try to make a lame joke later in this review)
I just can’t get enough of The Department of Truth from Image Comics. With every passing issue I discover more and more examples of narrative and comics innovation that aren’t boastful but simply efficient. Some creators pay so much attention to form and being "new & fresh" that they forget the story entirely. This title's creative team always serves the story with their stylized yet seemingly effortless manipulation of the comics form, an approach that brings us to The Department of Truth #12. Following their emotional run-in with Bigfoot, Hawke’s motivations are becoming clear, and Cole’s importance to both Black Hat and the DoT finally takes center stage in this week’s aptly titled issue: “Revelations”.
The issue begins with a traditionally tiered panel presentation, and Simmonds’ art takes on the look of a child’s drawing hung on the refrigerator. Pastel crayon coloring supports uneven, over-rendered lines and less-than-detailed character depictions, all in the service of putting us in Cole’s childhood perspective. A mysterious stranger is in Cole’s home, offering fame and riches (and lies) to encourage the spread of the star-eyed demon’s story. This memory ends in a reveal that starts the rising action of this title’s overall narrative, and shows us that an inevitable climax is on the horizon with the DoT and Black Hat, while Cole sits unknowingly in the middle. Up to the Bigfoot story arc, I felt this series had taken a more thoughtful turn. Small moments of human emotion bled through to comfort us and make us feel that everything would be all right. Now we are hurdling into the terrifying void of human indecency, and I am weirdly excited about it.
One of the interesting things I noticed in this week’s issue is that we are in “Chapter 9” narratively speaking, yet it is issue #12. I’m coming to believe that these chapters pertain to Cole, while the issue numbers pertain to us. This is a really interesting (and cool) way to differentiate between Cole’s story, and the comics story that serves the off-kilter presentation of the narrative, by preventing the reader from knowing where exactly they are in the story. There are so many elements at play with each other, that giving a straightforward review of this issue is plaguing me as I write.
James Tynion IV’s writing is good because you forget you’re even reading it. Rather than imagining pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), you can’t help but hear dialogue in the characters’ voices. Tynion succeeds in bringing these individuals to life (like a tulpa*; this was that lame joke), and his name fades as the narrative takes hold and drags you around viciously. There’s an intense focus on pulling U.S. history into the narrative that obviously pairs well with the more conspiratorial aspects, and often has me Googling left and right after an initial read. Tynion mixes truth and fact (the former being topical AND subjective) so well that I need to know the facts before I fall down an obsessive rabbit hole. There’s a confidence to the prose that serves the more abstract elements of the comic well in that it “earns its abstracts”. I had a former professor tell me this in an English course. Essentially, you can be as abstract as you want (or theoretical, metaphysical, or conspiratorial) as long as you “earn it” with concrete details or sentences. This exact concept is what Tynion does well. He creates solid characters and moments that anchor the reader to reality, while throwing that very same concept of reality in a blender filled with tulpas and paranoia.
Simmonds’ art reflects much of the same, forgoing traditional and consistent art for looks that serve every individual issue. Don’t get me wrong, there is a singular style that lays at the heart of the series, but these particular moments are surrounded by perspective-based art (i.e. the Crayola-brand version of Cole’s childhood). The core art in the series is abstract and extends beyond gutters and tiers, while the more eclectic decisions serve individual issue narratives that make each small narrative distinct, while still tying in to the overall arc. Traditional panel layouts also serve as an anchor, grounding the reader until the truth becomes too complex to be boxed up. These disruptions are how Tynion and Simmonds bring us closer to the truths of the DoT. While panels create a certain comfort, the absence or manipulation of them reflects that the truth extends beyond the realm of our understanding.
The time is coming for us to find out why Cole is so damn important to these entities that use our societal imagination as tools. I very much look forward to seeing where this rising action of an issue takes us. Will we get the facts...or just more of the truth?
Pick up this Image Comic when it releases on August 25 on Comixology or (preferably) from your LOCAL COMIC BOOK SHOP! If you are interested in some more of Tynion (...a tiny onion... there I said it), then go, Go, GO look into There's Something Killing the Children Vol. 1 on Amazon or...let me take a deep breath...YOUR LOCAL COMIC BOOK SHOP!