Of all aspects of Department of Truth, the strongest is most certainly its ability to weave our actual timeline within their story. As most great alt-history pieces of media do, James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds expertly tie the two together as if both were works of fiction. If only that were true.
This issue was one of the tougher ones to get through since the conspiracy theory presented is instantly far more sinister than lizard-men or flat-earthers; although those probably tie themselves into others. Department of Truth #3 dealt with the idea of crisis actors amidst school shootings, far and away the most sinister and gut-wrenching conspiracy theory to date.
In terrifying detail, we learn of a woman who is watching a video of a man fomenting the most recent school shooting where her son died as being completely fabricated. The man splashed in reds and purples across the page is the typical “far-right” conspiracy theorist you’d expect to see, something of Alex Jones types (Infowars host who spreads bile on his show.) or Wolfgang Halbig (also arrested for tormenting survivors and a contributor of InfoWars.) Quite possibly, with the way the panel is laid out in strips, a combination of them and more. This being the first panel pulls you in for two distinct reasons. One, it features a large panel pieced together with hard-to-see breaks. And two, a school shooting is something that is all too prevalent in the US. CNN explains that there were 180 school shootings between 2009 – 2019. It’s to the point where when discussing the shootings you have to recall which one happened where.
The rest of this issue lays out another point that we all have (or probably) will experience in our lives. There’s the idea that grief can lead you to look for answers in places you never have before. Mary, the woman whose son died in the school shooting initially starts out as skeptical, as many would when some random hog spews falsehoods. But over time, her defenses begin wearing down as the echo chamber of conspiracy theorists keep chipping away at what she knows is real. It’s not long before Cole and Ruby’s appearances work as confirmation for the imposters attempting to convince Mary that this was a false flag.
The way the story plays out is interesting because we get to see how her descent in an echo chamber works as confirmation for what she is seeing in real life. Each of those instances where she slowly becomes radicalized features an American flag splashed with gun imagery. From the flag emblazoned with guns or bullets, it solidified the unique problem only the US has… a lack of gun control.
My favorite panel is a two page spread of a woman with a TV for a head pointing a gun to her son’s head with the background of America with the guns for stars mentioned above. Not only does the panel draw clear connotations for our obsession with the media and how it manipulates us, the story written in this section shows the struggles of a woman wanting to doubt what she knows is probably a ruse, but having trouble doing so. From a video of an improv team that could pass as her and her son (to further the false flag idea) to the men (they are always specified as men as part of the forum) being unable to come up with clear evidence for their outlandish ideas; she doesn’t want to believe these but her grief is all-consuming. When the car pulls up once more (Cole and Ruby), it further forces her to question her former beliefs that this was a real event and not an elaborate scheme.
Cole and Ruby’s side of the story takes a few interesting turns. Once they confront Mary, they have an interesting interaction. Cole is spilling too much of the deeper ongoings, and Ruby has to choke out Mary so he doesn’t continue talking. Once Ruby explains that they have to destroy everything to make her think that it was all just a dream, Cole feels a sense of remorse. An innocent woman, by all means, is going to now have to deal with the idea that she is losing her mind. The last two pages once Mary wakes up and is channeling through her memories is certainly a feeling many experience. That feeling of knowing something absolutely cannot be real, then the evidence begins to mount forcing you to flip your position, only for that (admittedly false) information to disappear, all of this tearing at her as she attempts to overcome the grief of losing her son. The gun in the final scene is especially poignant because it is the device that has caused, and continues to cause these very real instances to happen here and in real life.