REVIEW: Dune: House Atreides: This is Fine

FAAWHOOOM panel from Dune: House Atreides #1

Dune: House Atreides starts with a FAAWHOOOM, introducing audiences to the intergenerational Herbert series. A primer for the major players in the upcoming Legendary movie adaptation Dune, this adapts Dune: House Atreides but it is not quite a tie-in comic.

Dune: House Atreides #1

Brian Herbert (writer), Kevin J. Anderson (writer), Dev Pramanik (illustrator), Alex Guimarães (colorist), Ed Dukeshire (letters), Jae Lee (cover), June Chung (cover), Marie Krupina (designer), Jonathan Manning (editor), and Dafna Pleban (senior editor)
BOOM! Studios
21 October 2020

Dune: House Atreides #1 main cover
Dune: House Atreides issue #1 Cover A Main cover by Jae Lee and June Chung

I like Dune and the comic Dune: House Atreides #1 is the first of a number of comics adaptations  of the Dune novels. Overall, it blends the things I enjoy about Dune with many of the things I don’t. I love the expansive universe and the way that the people, stories, and beliefs in Dune demonstrate cultural change and interaction. However, it is still a property created by a white man in the 1960s and contains artifacts from that time that most adaptations do not question.

Admittedly, I have not consumed everything Dune related. However, I know enough to understand what the hell is going on in this comic because it is a dense introduction. It feels best suited for folks who already know what is going to happen.

Specifically, this first issue spends so little time on each character and place it feels like getting one bite of everything at a buffet and only one bite. The opening line for the comic encapsulates both the cultural depth of Dune and the assumption that anyone who hasn’t read the series understands what that means. It name drops “Padishah Emperor Elrood IX” then “House Harkonnen” and assumes we might know what “spice” is. It’s the sort made-up-word-name salad that is quintessential to this sort of science fiction. Without a Padishah Emperor we might not have Anaander Mianaai.

It’s also part of the stuff that makes Dune very 1960s, weird, and fun. The colors for this issue bring that weirdness inherent to Dune to the forefront. While there are a lot of white men, an unquestioned artifact of its context, the planets and cultures these men inhabit are colorful and vibrant.

I love the opening page of Arrakis, its star adding a bright yellow outline to the burnt umber of the sphere, contrasting infinite space. It demonstrates the primacy of place in the series in an excellent way. The text and panels on that page could have been shifted to the next one for a stronger opening but it works as a zoom into the story.

However, the colors are not so dazzling for me to ignore that it feels like women and any kind of non-masculine presenting human do not exist in this universe. Neither Herbert and Anderson’s script nor Pramanik’s illustrations depict or describe a woman until halfway through the comic. And then they describe her as property, stolen from one man by another.

Later, in the story of Leto Atreides, we get his mother as an active participant in some scenes. Unfortunately, she acts as a “No woman,” telling Paulus to wake up at a play or comment that he makes bad decisions. The preview cover for issue #2 suggests that the Bene Gesserit will show up, which should help. That doesn’t offset the feeling from this issue that non-masculine presenting people are secondary to anything important happening in this universe.

Overall, the issue is fine. Pramanik’s illustrations do not look like the designs from the forthcoming movie adaptation but I like them. Stylistically, they play on nostalgia, referencing sci-fi designs of the 1960s. Additionally, Alex Guimarães’s colors help contrast the different planets we visit in this issue. The colors highlight that Dune inhabits a bright and living universe even if grimdark things happen within it. However, the script feels heavy-handed and awkward in moments, also like some comics from the 1960s.

While this an adaptation from notes that began in the 1960s, this is a 2020 adaptation. And I wish that the dialogue and representation reflected that. While the movie updates aspects of representation, it doesn’t feel weird like the book does. However, this adaptation is so literal that it feels outdated and at times boring.

As I said at the start, I like Dune. The first novel is amazing inspiration for the potential that can, and possibly does, exist in an infinite universe. However, this comic falls in with most other adaptations I have seen of Dune. It’s not weird enough, it’s not free enough, and it’s not updated. The issue chains itself to the source material in a way that drags its potential down. So all it can ever be is fine.

Paulina Przystupa

Paulina Przystupa

Paulina (aka @punuckish) is a Filipine-Polish archaeologist and anthropology graduate student who grew up in the Pacific Northwest and loves comics and pop culture. Her academic work focuses on how buildings and landscapes aid or impede the learning of culture by children. In general, she is an over-educated fan of things; primarily comics, comics-related properties, cartoons, science-fiction, and fantasy. This means she takes what she knows and uses it to critique what she loves. Recently, she has brought such discussions to the public by organizing and moderating panels at comic cons centered on anthropology/culture related topics.