Back to the source: Atomic Blonde’s graphic novel origin, The Coldest City


In many ways the spy protagonist Lorraine Broughton, played by Charlize Theron in this year’s action blockbuster Atomic Blonde, will be barely recognizable to fans of writer Antony Johnston and artist Sam Hart’s Lorraine Broughton, the heroine of the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City The most obvious change is certainly that Broughton is not drawn blonde in the pages of the comic, but the modifications go much further.  Yet, if you can separate the source material from the film, both can be appreciated for the great stories and the visuals that both offer.

We reviewed the film Atomic Blonde here at back in August.  The original Oni Press graphic novel is now available in a movie tie-in edition.  Atomic Blonde is no doubt a catchy and excellent title, and matches the violent and dynamic tone of the film.  But The Coldest City is also a great title, carrying its own clever double meaning.  In the book’s pages Sam Hart draws a black and white spy story that echoes the bleakness of the Cold War territory Antony Johnston’s tale revisits.  Top spy Broughton is serious about her job, she’s street savvy, and has years of experience when she’s brought in for a debriefing at the beginning of the story.  Hart’s art style is striking, and like Jean-Marc Rochette’s artistry in his graphic novel Snowpiercer (reviewed here), the panels aren’t cluttered with detail, and he instead relies on simple, dark lines with shadows to emphasize the mood.  From every angle The Coldest City is an engaging “end of the Cold War” story.

As different as Atomic Blonde appears to be from the graphic novel, the film is substantially faithful to its source.  You might find the differences in the book and movie analogous to a comparison of the film version of Casino Royale starring Daniel Craig to Ian Fleming’s original novel (we reviewed that one here).  The imagery is different but the author’s intent comes through, albeit in an updated package.


Where the film is amped-up and maybe even improved is its blatant creation of a James Bond-worthy female super spy.  In the graphic novel Broughton is a quiet, intelligent, crafty force, but not drawn or written in any way that would reflect non-stop, hand-to-hand combat prowess, other than in one four-page action sequence (that does make it into the film).  By comparison, the Broughton of the film seems to be in non-stop combat mode from beginning to end.  Is one better than the other?

Swap a male love interest for a female, and add in the film version’s propensity for taking ice cube baths, and the core and framework are the same.  Both are excellent works at what their creators were aiming for.

Pick up the new Atomic Blonde edition of The Coldest City now here at Amazon.  The Atomic Blonde movie is available now on DVD here, Blu-ray here, and 4K here, and also streaming on Vudu and other platforms.

C.J. Bunce

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