Writer: James Tynion IV, Artist: Martin Simmonds, Letterer: Aditya Bidikar, Designer: Dylan Todd, Editor: Steve Foxe.
The Department of Truth #14 from Image Comics ventures to the Department’s beginning, a surreal affair full of occult practices and rocket science that affords the most information yet on the Woman in Red. Lacing Jack Parsons, Alistair Crowley, and L. Ron Hubbard together in a tapestry of occultist shenanigans, this issue offers glimpses at character origins, character motivations, and the depths of the rabbit hole. After reading this issue I feel as if I’m watching a lit fuse as the sparks move ever closer to something . . . well . . . explosive. Tension is mounting and the real enemies are making themselves known. This creative team revels in making sense of chaos, interchanging symbolism and reality to give their world instability while drawing eerie but subtle parallels to our own.
Simmonds' art always hurls me into an existential panic, but a good one. His style changes consistently to fit the story, and this week's is sure to be a crowd favorite. I'm calling this week's art style "Roswellian". An absolutist color palette (brightest whites and darkest blacks) and 1960s pulp vibe create a very Roswell, New Mexico/Men in Black aesthetic. Myth and reality constantly mingle in Simmonds' work. This creates a certain unreliability throughout the story, a natural paranoia that we see having already overcome our central characters.
Simmonds physically integrates symbols and icons into his settings, establishing how these beliefs and ideas construct the fabric of reality. These beliefs can become as real as physical places, and Simmonds' art always does well blurring the line between thought and reality, truth and fact.
One of my personal favorite aesthetic choices is the constant pairing of pulp literature and media icons. Sci-Fi zines and newspapers belong together here, as "truth", "fact", and "imagination" combine in an unstable heap of chaos. The blurring of these lines almost serves to justify the Department's existence, if only to keep the peace just that little bit longer.
Simmonds nails it with his more macabre illustrations. The above splash page combines many different icons and symbols as a depiction of the story being told by the old man. The three occultists surround the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion while back-dropped by missiles. The implications are allowed to dominate the page. This is bigger than reality, represented by the small panel to the bottom-right. This level of symbolism and theme are standard procedure for Simmonds at this point, whose ability to artistically convey meaning extends to characters as well. Facial expressions benefit from meticulous detail and coloring. Eyes especially seem to glisten in their 2D space.
The characters are the anchor in this ideological, drug trip of a series. Reality is changed through the power of belief, leaving us on unstable ground and grasping for concrete where there are only clouds. Each character is brought to life (whether we want it or not) through the partnership of meaning and presentation brought by Tynion and Bidikar’s writing/lettering union.
The varied lettering and balloon styles add layers of characterization, while unique sentence patterns assures each character speaks differently than everyone else. A speech balloon may be spiked only around one word, giving inflection.
Other balloons fail to stay consistently aligned or shaped, hinting at unreliability or even the instability of the ideas themselves.
Some balloons are specific to certain characters and offer a special insight to them. What could red on a white background mean?
I have this peculiar feeling that Tynion has a secret room in his office perimetered by corkboard and garlanded by a spiderweb of red yarn connecting various story threads in this series. For each issue, he spins in a circle and grabs a string at random, following that story for that issue. Yet, Tynion always makes this seem part of the plan. His characters are dynamic and different from one another. Pacing is expertly done and the interweaving of history, lore, and speculation prove Tynion is an imaginative and adaptable talent.
The Department of Truth is a stunning series that dives into the power of belief and the dangers therein. We don't know who to trust and all lines of good and bad are fading. This week's issue is a standout example of world-building, lore-building, and good ol' fashioned comics creating. Pick up your own copy of this week's issue from Image Comic's website or go grab it from . . . wait for it . . . your LOCAL COMIC BOOK SHOP on December 1 !!!
If you need more Martin Simmonds art in your life, go check out Dying is Easy, a graphic novel he created with Joe Hill. If you're hankering for Tynion, you can't go wrong with Something is Killing the Children; however, EVERYONE will recommend that right now (including me still), so go check out The Woods first; be subversive. Then, go check out more of Bidikar's work on their 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.