If you haven’t watched the movie or read the graphic novel, come back later.
Lorraine Broughton is an MI6 operative tasked with unmasking the secret identity of double agent operating out of Cold War Berlin. Set during the days leading to the fall of The Wall in 1989, our heroine must investigate possible suspects on both sides of the wall to obtain a stolen list that contains the names of her spy counterparts. The British fear that the material will pop up in Moscow or the Black Market, undermining the intelligence operations around the globe. The only clue Lorraine has to go off is the codename of the broker of the transaction, Satchel/Statchel. Is he/she the person behind the information leak? Who can you trust in a city full of duplicitous intent? Will our femme fatale be able to survive this delicate and dangerous mission?
The answer is yes.
The movie Atomic Blonde borrows from the original story to give us an action packed, girl power romp, full of suspense, 80s cosplay, and intrigue. However, the original character was not blonde, was not associated with the CIA, and is not involved in as many car chases and staircase hands on, close combat as Charlize Theron’s version. The graphic novel is in black and white, blending the environment in the background without having to be bothered with the music and cultural accoutrements of the times whereas the movie is all 1980s neon noir, the novel is dark, crisp and sleek. The Coldest City is about the narrative, not the visuals. It makes sense because the spies should blend in, not stand out, to perform their jobs successfully, which doesn’t work well for 2017 audiences.
For the most part the story flows in the same direction. Perceval is not a punk/counter cultural young gun but rather an old and distinguished station leader. With a more subdued demeanor, it is neither hard nor easy to read malicious intent in his words. Not enough info is there to pass judgement early on and claim he is a double agent, much less leader of any gang or Ice Men. If Lorraine ever had physical proof that he was the leak, she burnt it or disposed of it, just like in the movie. We learn of this after the briefing ends and closer to the end of the book with no further action or interaction with the Russians. It ends with the twist, which may be hard to understand if you haven’t seen the film prior to reading the material.
The entire Spyglass storyline is used as a distraction in the novel but has a bit more meat in the screenplay. He knew the names, proof that the list was real and tangible vs in the novel where he never actually confirms he even handled it. The character fades into the background quickly, and is assassinated to prove a point: Lorraine and Perceval have been made. French agent Pierre Lasalle comes into the fray claiming to have proof of Perceval’s betrayal, but we soon we are shown that the perpetrator of the double cross had been our Atomic Blonde all along.
It is worth mentioning that Delphine’s character was supposed to be Pierre but it was updated to make the story a bit more unique. Again, the movie was about the visual component of the story, and it needed a bit more flair to stand out from the pack of love stories that accompany the 007 rhetoric. Also, there is no apparent romantic link between James Gascoine (the agent that is killed during the opening sequence) and Lorraine in the novel. She isn’t ties down to a man, family or any other element that would explain her origin story or motivation. You are not given any information about who she is and what drives her. The director had carte blanche to develop her on screen as he saw fit, and he made her three times more fierce than drawn.
There are other minor differences that don’t change the storyline too much. Some of the extra conspirators, like the kids in East Berlin are added to expand on the atmosphere of the times and provide some historical commentary. They also provided a means to add German actor Til Schweiger into the plot which is always a treat for the movie buffs and nerds. (See the blog post on Atomic Blonde for more info on the movie.)
In the end, both versions are entertaining in their formats. Overall, an avid reader and movie buff as myself can get through both in an evening. I was not disappointed by either nor have reserved criticism for the sake of argument. I found both formats entertaining and relevant. Girl Power all the way. Enjoy Atomic Blonde, The Coldest City and prequel The Coldest Winter if you are interested in researching the subject further.
Happy hunting! 😎