THE COLDEST CITY Review

Oni Press
Publication date: May 29th, 2012
Writer: Antony Johnston
Illustrator: Sam Hart

A list. One that contains the names of every double agent from both sides, formerly in the hands of a murdered MI6 officer. This is the kind of information everyone wants. And it’s running loose in somewhere in Berlin. This isn’t some ordinary retrieval job, this is November 1989. And the Berlin Wall is about to come down.

When the wall toppled the espionage landscaped changed. So many strings needed to be tied up because no one wanted to be the person holding the smoking gun when a plot to start the next secret war reared it’s ugly head. A list naming every secret agent would have just the right kind of impact to end lives and start problems. An agent named Lorraine Broughton is brought in to secure that list. With no ties to Berlin her mission is to get in, get the list and get out with little to no trouble. Nothing ever goes as planned, especially in the midst of a cultural revolution. She’ll have to contend with poor German-speaking skills, a sexist task leader, shady information men, and untrustworthy agents to find, not only the list, but what is really going on.

Antony Johnston has been getting a lot of buzz lately for his sleeper hit “Wasteland” and being one of the writers of the epic “Daredevil” storyline, “Shadowland.” With “the Coldest City” he takes a subtle approach with a potentially dire situation. Johnston tells the story though a debrief of Lorraine with her superior officer. It’s a wise choice; knowing that she lives through the story means that, while she is telling the story, the light of suspicion could easily fall to her as well. Each character brings a their own personality to the story leaving no one safe, in life or trust. The book builds with each page. New or altered information comes fast and furious but never overwhelmingly so. It’s a spy book that is beautifully subtle with a fantastic climax. “The Coldest City” is a sly espionage tale readers will indulge in through the end.

The only real difficulty with the story is keeping many of the characters straight. And that is only though the art. Sam Hart’s black and white sketchy style is interesting but for a story set in shadow so often it can sometimes make it difficult to differentiate one male character from the other. Hart’s is work that is benefited with the use of color or grey tones, as seen in his brilliant other work. Choosing black and white for this story was a good idea but for such a wonderfully stylized artist it did a disservice.

If you liked “Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy” then “the Coldest City” is a book for you. Johnston is a great writer and has a great handle on this genre and it shows with “The Coldest City.”

Jo Schmidt