BOOM! Studios are now two issues into their graphic novel adaptation of “Dune: House Atreides,” — and fortunately for fans of the franchise new and old, the sophomore outing is a measured improvement on the series’ rocky start.
The second issue opens with imperial planetologist Liet Kynes, previously dispatched to the planet of Arrakis, known by its native Fremen simply as Dune, to study its ecology. The ruling imperial House Harkonnen are infamous for their sadistic disregard for life, and when he is invited to accompany Rabban Harknonnen on his quest to kill a sandworm, Kynes is soon to witness this disregard first hand.
While many had doubts about whether the graphic novel is the right medium for this beloved story, the second issue ensures “House Atreides” is in good hands with this opening scene. On one hand, the art in these panels is simply breathtaking: the colors are vibrant and distinct, and illustrator Dev Pramanik captures every bit of suspense in the scene with his eye for dramatic framing. As the sandworm draws ever closer to their explosive trap, one standout page cranks up the tension with panels that mimic its massive ripples in the sand.
There’s a sharp sense of character at play here, too. Rabban, with his ill-conceived plan to slay a famed “god” of Dune, is the clear villain in the situation. But it’s hard to feel much better about our supposed hero: Kynes is so eager to study the sandworm that he’s willing to overlook Rabban’s endangerment of their indigenous crew. In true “Dune” fashion, “House Atreides #2” is defined by these moments of moral ambiguity, critiquing its characters for what they say and leave unsaid.
“House Atreides #2” also introduces the sisterhood of the Bene Gesserit, one of the most iconic factions of the franchise. The order has reportedly manipulated the bloodlines of the galaxy’s royal houses for millenia, but they are now only two generations away from fulfilling their ultimate goal: arranging for the birth of their prophet, the Kwisatz Haderach. The only variable remaining: they must ensure Baron Harkonnnen — whose homosexuality is a bit of galactic open secret — has a daughter.
It’s a short sequence, but adeptly conveys the Bene Gesserit’s cryptic, pseudoreligious and overtly political goals. It’s also a marked difference in storytelling ethos from the first issue; whereas the initial outing of “House Atreides” suffered from a chronic tendency to explain away all its narrative subtlety, the second issue isn’t afraid to leave a scene with unanswered questions. While this may present a greater challenge to fans being introduced to “Dune,” this confidence in the reader’s ability to piece things together marks the issue as a richer and overall more enjoyable installment.
But while this improvement in writing is appreciated, there’s no denying that “House Atreides” shines primarily in its visuals — a fact firmly solidified by its next scene, which introduces Duncan Idaho. Longtime fans know he’ll someday be a pivotal figure in the Atreides inner circle, but for now, he’s a slave boy on the run. It’s another standout action sequence as Duncan evades capture, dominated by a bold comic book onomatopoeia as lasgun bullets ricochet and lev-trains rush by. The scene is made all the more effective by Pramanik’s knack for visceral and expressive figure drawing: The cold sadistic sportsmanship of his pursuers stands in stark contrast with desperation on Duncan’s face and movements.
All things considered, “House Atreides #2” is head and shoulders above the initial installment. The sophomore outing holds onto everything that worked in the first — namely the impressive visuals and adaptation of the novel’s iconic perspective-hopping narration. But from its greater narrative confidence and improved sense for dramatic stakes and pacing, “House Atreides #2” also avoids most all of the pitfalls of its precursor. It remains to be seen if further issues can hold onto what the second issue has to offer, but if this upward trend continues, “Dune: House Atreides” may shape up to be one of the Dune franchise’s strongest adaptations yet.