Review: Atomic Blonde: The Coldest City

I am always surprised by the number of movies that are made from comic books that I had no idea existed.  Atomic Blonde, from Oni Press is one such beast.  Originally published as “The Coldest City”, the book tells the story of Lorraine, caught up in spy shenanigans, betrayal, a missing list and the death of her fellow agents all of which occurred around the time of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

The book is written by Anthony Johnston, who fills the story with a darker shadowy tapestry than you would normally find in other spy books; yes, I am looking at you Mr Bond.  Lorraine is the focal point of the story, with events taking place in and around her.  Told as a debrief, we get to see the action, or not (after all it is spy book), as it happens, learning things, rolling with the punches, getting duped along with Lorraine.  With the story laden with layers, it does descend into “talking heads” which I have to say, doesn’t help the book in terms of ease of read.

Furthering the difficulties is the art by Sam Hart, which is a black and white affair, which I find ironic when you consider the greyness of the middle grounds and actions taken by some spies.  I don’t think I have ever seen artwork that encapsulates a lesser than less is more approach.  For the most part, faces and figure work are shown as implications rather actualities.  This gives the art an unfinished look that when coupled with the word heavy dialogue, doesn’t give the eyes any sort of respite.  Reading a comic shouldn’t be this much hard work!  This element of art is even more disappointing when you see some of the close up work from Hart, who successfully uses shading and inks to show an impressive amount of details.  Finally, with so  much talking going on, some of the panels are practically carbon copies of the previous one.  “Talking heads” I can deal with, but come on, give us something different to look at whilst you deliver the “tell rather than the show”.

As I mentioned, with so many books gaining a film release, I decided to check out the trailers for the movie to give me some context.  What I found was an action film, touted a the “next John Wick”, with explosive violence, Hollywood lesbians, thigh high boots and a blonde star.  The film looks so dramatically different from this book, that if anyone buys this book after seeing the film they may well face the biggest disappointment since buying The Killing Joke graphic after seeing the movie and expecting to see a Batgirl story.  I am all for artistic licence, but could this be seen as a case for the Trade Discrimination Act!  Ploughing through this book, I am left weary and unmoved, not the greatest experiences to be had in the comic book world.

Still, the movie looks pretty good!

Writing – 2.5 Stars
Art – 2 Stars

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Sam Hart
Published by Oni Press
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