The Department of Truth #13. Writer: James Tynion IV; Artist: Martin Simmonds; Letterer: Aditya Bidikar; Designer: Dylan Todd; Editor: Steve Foxe.
SPOILER WARNING: I may (will) spoil story points in this review so reader beware!
The second arc of The Department of Truth from Image Comics comes to a close this week not with a bang, but with a hypersonic death scream. There are huge reveals and promises of more to come down the line in this issue that features the very best this creative team has to offer. Breathtaking art manages to balance intimate panel work with vague character features, while the writing gives each character their own unique voice and rhythm. Page designs and well executed lettering complete this powerhouse display of story.
Cole Turner has been our protagonist since the beginning. From ice walls at the edge of the world to the Denver International Airport, Cole has become involved in a deadly conflict between the Department of Truth and Black Hat. These organizations operate to manage/create/destroy/manipulate tulpas, or beings created through sheer belief. As a child, Cole was used as a pawn to bring one such tulpa to life, the Star-Faced Man, and now Hawk has played his hand and brought Cole back to where it all started...a preschool in Milwaukee...I know, a bit anticlimactic. Hawk reveals himself to be a Black Hat agent and brings Cole to the site of the Star-Faced Man’s creation to recruit him to the other side, with the one thing Cole has craved since the beginning: the truth.
What follows is a gorgeous symphony of art and writing that delivers the answers we’ve been craving alongside our protagonist while using imagery as symbolism, a style that works so well with this series’ content. A big part of Simmonds’ artwork that I like is the vague description given to the characters. Basic features are all we’re given, unless a particular character is drawn in intimate close-up in a single panel. This vagueness keeps the reader on their toes and matches the theme of uncertainty that’s plagued Cole since issue #1. The good guys and bad guys aren’t clear cut (neither is the truth), and this is reflected in the art.
Simmonds focuses on symbolism above all and these moments stand out among the fuzzy character figures. Hawk’s facial features are rarely shown in sharp relief, but his cap with an upside-down United States flag is clear. The Star-Faced Man is uncertain in shape, drawn as if he’s constantly ablaze like a Satanic Johnny Storm, but the pentagram on his face is more than apparent. Symbols and tulpas are both realities fueled by belief, so this is a great example of how this creative team uses the different aspects of the comics medium to create an engrossing atmosphere. There is a lot of intention behind the different elements of this title and how they mingle together for the benefit of the story.
Tynion’s writing and Bidikar’s lettering are a match made in heaven. Without this teamwork, this week’s issue couldn’t be pulled off. The amount of information and reveals could tread dangerously close to exposition dumping (dropping LOADS of plot details with bad pacing), but the individuality and work behind each character makes these moments flow naturally in the dialogue. The writing is unique to each character and really creates a sense of voice for everyone the reader encounters. The lettering manages to capture the fever-dream-like conversations and especially shines when the Star-Faced Man graces us with his disturbing dialogue. This is a character first title. The work goes into making these characters seem like people you could possibly meet in the world, and then you throw them into an absurd situation. That character work serves to sell the more absurd moments by grounding them in something we understand: humanity.
Now that The Department of Truth #13 has changed the game (and our expectations moving forward), we still have so many questions that don’t have answers. This is all the more reason to keep up with this title. Who is the Woman in Red? What does Black Hat want with Cole? In conversations, why does Hawk bring up Cole naked so much? All this and more will need to be explored, so stay tuned!
If you’re reading this, go buy this book when it hits shelves this Wednesday, September 29th. Fetch it from your LOCAL COMIC BOOK STORE (!!!!!!) or from Image Comics’ website. If you enjoy this title, think about checking out some of my recommendations this week. Gideon Falls Deluxe Edition, Something is Killing the Children Vol. 1, and Primordial #1. The first two may be found at your LCBS (!!!!!) or Amazon while Primordial #1 will be at a LCBS or Image Comics' website.
Austin Kemp read Batman #315 (Batman vs Kite Man) when he was 5 years old, and hasn't stopped reading comics since. Austin is a college writing teacher and has a masters degree in Comics Studies. Austin and his partner, Savanah, live in Massachusetts with their master, a cat named Chaplin.