While we don’t see much of the titular transportation in issue #8 of James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds’ conspiracy theory comic, The Department of Truth, “The Man in the Black Helicopter,” invokes a seemingly mundane idea that conspiracy believers have latched onto for decades.
Black helicopters have permeated conspiracy culture for a ridiculously long time, and have been connected with everything from cattle mutilations, to Men in Black, to UFOs and paranormal manifestations, like those “reported” by Fortean author of The Mothman Prophecies, John Keel, and those which have supposedly taken place at the Skinwalker Ranch in Utah. Most accounts of these so-called mysterious helicopters claim they’re dead silent, piloted by top secret government or possibly extra-governmental agents who swoop down (usually at night) to clean up locations of strange phenomena — a sort of New World Order crime scene investigation squad.
Helicopters would obviously be the choice transportation for this kind of shady work, since they can readily access remote scenes without needing a lengthy landing strip. It’s why they’re used to airlift grievously injured patients to hospitals. While Osama bin Laden’s assassination was carried out in part by “two Black Hawk helicopters that had been modified for stealth,” as Barack Obama wrote in his memoir, A Promised Land, that doesn’t mean they were silent. But the fact has further fueled conspiracy theorists, who tend to think that one semi-confirmed account of a concept equates to the truth of all similar ideas.
There are countless problems with the idea of silent helicopters, one of the biggest being that wind gusts from the blades can leave traces behind, especially in vegetated areas. Also, even though a large number of black helicopter sightings were reported in the ’70s and ’80s, the semi-confirmation of stealth helicopters used in 2011 means the technology is relatively new. Even giving some healthy wiggle room to account for the period of time the technology was first invented to the time it was said to have been used, this leaves us with a large gap. If the U.S. government had this technology 50 years ago, would they really not have used it internationally until just recently?
“One of the core tenets of our kind of work is leaning into what people already believe,” Ruby tells Cole Turner, echoing the foundations on which many modern day conspiracy theories are built — ancient tropes and myths that adapt and change with our technology and zeitgeist.
It may not seem obvious at first, but if you “scratch an inch beneath the surface,” as Ruby says, you can understand the reference to black helicopters in Department of Truth #8’s title. While it’s never specifically mentioned that the character introduced here, Hawk Harrison, uses black helicopters as a mode of transportation, he at least symbolically represents what they stand for. He’s a “fixer,” a man who covers up errors and encourages certain beliefs and ideas.
And of course the issue is set at Denver International Airport, one of the most conspiracy theory-laden places in the country, if not the world. Stories abound about D.U.M.B.s (Deep Underground Military Bases), reptilian shapeshifters, and the unusual and somewhat creepy murals that decorate the inside of the airport. In their discussion about the most famous mural at the DIA, the one that seemingly features a scene of genocide, Ruby explains to Turner that “anyone with half a brain can see that the murals are just a New Age sentiment arguing that out of war comes peace.” What would she say about those who see a helicopter and think it’s part of a Deep State government conspiracy?
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