Whole generations have come and gone since the Cold War ended more than two decades ago, which means many have lost sight of what everyday life was like back then. According to author Antony Johnston, the main thing modern young people don’t understand about the Cold War (in addition to the whole constant-threat-of-nuclear-annihilation thing) was how inevitable it felt: “While it was happening, we couldn’t imagine it would ever end. It felt like this is how the world is, and it will never be different. The wall will never come down, and the Iron Curtain will never fall, and Russia will always be Communist and we’ll always be enemies,” he tells EW.
Johnston, a longtime comics author with a deep love of spy fiction, set out to tackle the Cold War with a trilogy of graphic novels set in the war’s epicenter: Berlin. The first was 2012’s The Coldest City, which took place at the end of the Cold War and was illustrated by Sam Hart. (It’s also currently being adapted into a film by David Leitch starring Charlize Theron and James McAvoy.) Johnston wanted to show how sudden the end of the war felt for people living in it, people who thought it would stretch on forever, but it didn’t leave him a lot of forward plot runway. For the upcoming sequel, The Coldest Winter (illustrated by Steve Perkins), he decided to take a few steps back and illustrate the backstory of The Coldest City’s enigmatic British station chief David Perceval.
“I specifically wanted to show how he became the sort of person he is in The Coldest City, because he’s not a very likable character there,” Johnston says. “It was very much about finding that character and making him sympathetic, because in The Coldest City, he’s not very sympathetic at all.”
The preview pages below feature one of Perceval’s first missions as a British intelligence agent in Berlin, where he attempts to extradite an important scientist from East Berlin to the West side. Things go sour, resulting in an epic car chase — one with far more action than anything that happened in The Coldest City. Johnston says this influx of action was deliberate, and part of the reason he wanted Perkins to illustrate this installment.
“What I liked about Steven’s work is that obviously it’s very noir, which suits the mood and style of the book, but it also has a core of energy in there that was very important for this book,” Johnston says. “It’s a little more action-focused than The Coldest City, so I knew we needed someone who could pull that off.”
Perkins, for his part, did his best to make this scene as action-focused as possible.
“I definitely wanted to make it feel like a burst of action after some subdued cat-and-mouse games,” Perkins tells EW. “That was one of the few sequences where I broke from the standard, geometric panel layout that most of the book is in and did more dynamic angles to make it as exciting as possible so it felt like we were suddenly exploding into this action sequence in the book. That’s nothing new, that’s what every comic artist does, but I definitely wanted to push it as hard as possible with cars jumping off of stairs and everything else. It was a blast to draw.”
Action is sprinkled throughout The Coldest Winter, along with snow. As it goes on, the book starts living up to its name as heavy snow builds and builds until it grows into a massive storm, literal as well as metaphorical.
“That was definitely something I picked up on the first time I read the script, how the storm is coming. It’s almost like Game of Thrones: Winter is coming,” Perkins says. “I was very conscious of building up the level of snow and paying attention to how much snow was actually falling. Antony was kind of great about putting signposts in the script about how much snow, where is the storm, so I followed his lead.”
Every trilogy needs a threequel, of course. Although there aren’t many details about the currently unnamed third installment, Johnson will say it focuses on The Coldest City protagonist Lorraine Broughton’s backstory, much as The Coldest Winter tackles David Perceval’s.
“She is not in this book, but the third one will focus on her and will show, without spoiling anything, how she came to be in this situation in which she finds herself at the start of The Coldest City,” Johnston says.
Check out preview pages from The Coldest Winter below. The full book will hit stands this December. The film version of The Coldest City is currently set for an Aug. 11, 2017 release.