Atomic Blonde, starring Charlize Theron and James McAvoy, hits cinemas on July 28. The movie is an adaptation of a 2012 graphic novel called The Coldest City, written by Antony Johnston and illustrated by Sam Hart. The film’s re-branding to Atomic Blonde establishes a connection to the Cold War era in which the story is set, while simultaneously setting up Theron’s MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton as a glamorous John Wick. However, the original Lorraine Broughton, as featured in the novel, is rather more restrained. She’s also brunette.
The Coldest City is a story of espionage and intrigue, set in 1989 Berlin when the downfall of both communism and the wall is imminent. It’s a time of political unrest and uncertainty, a seething mass of spies, assassins, and double or triple agents from the world’s top intelligence organizations. When one of MI6’s agents is murdered and the valuable document in his possession stolen, the British intelligence agency sends in one of their best to retrieve the missing information: Lorraine Broughton. Lorraine has no previous ties to Germany, and must untangle a dangerous web where it’s impossible to know who to trust. Fortunately for MI6, Lorraine’s tough as nails and not the kind of woman who gives up, but as a result, her enemies are bent on removing her from the picture.
It’s a mystery with a twist, and the majority of the story is told via flashback, with each scene brought to life by Sam Hart’s moody illustrations. Hart’s use of shadow and minimalism in certain panels is a clever allusion to the fact that the truth is being obscured, but this art style may not be for everyone.
The brain behind the story is New York Times bestselling author Antony Johnston. Johnston has worked on several graphic novels and comic books, including Wasteland, Wolverine, Daredevil, and The Fuse. He has also written for video games such as Dead Space, Shadow of Mordor, and ZombiU. Before getting into writing, he worked as a graphic designer, and he has a passion for making music.
Illustrator Sam Hart has drawn for comic books and graphic novels such as Starship Troopers, Judge Dredd, and Robin Hood. He lives in Brazil, where he also does illustrations for magazines and newspapers, and teaches Character Design, Storyboarding, and Graphic Narrative at a school of the arts.
The Coldest City is the first novel in a planned trilogy. Its prequel, The Coldest Winter, is out now, and a third story is in progress. If you plan to see Atomic Blonde, or enjoyed the movie and want more from its universe, consider picking up The Coldest City.