Spice Flows Again: ‘Dune: House Atreides #4’ falls short as flashy filler installment

Photo of Dune 4
Boom! Studios/Creative Commons

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Quote of the month: They think this is a game. Maybe now they’ll play my game. 

Now a third of the way through its 12-issue series, Boom! Studios’ graphic novel adaptation of “Dune: House Atreides” is finally beginning to take shape. It’s been a rather turbulent run with plenty of exciting highlights and disappointing lows — but the fourth issue is perhaps the most emblematic of them all.

The latest issue opens as Duncan Idaho continues to evade his Harkonnen pursuers: to the best of his adversaries’ knowledge, the young Idaho is resourceful but unthreatening. Now armed with a lasgun rifle, however, Idaho prepares to bring the fight to them. It’s by meticulously setting up Duncan’s ambush that “House Atreides #4” shows its best colors, both figuratively and literally. The deep oranges of muzzle flashes and wildfires radiate with palpable energy against the hazy blues of Giedi Prime’s vast wilderness, bringing the mortal tension of the hunt into vivid contrast.

But before Duncan has time to celebrate his escape, he is once again swept up in galactic politics. Janess Milam, a rising player on Giedi Prime with a vendetta against Duncan’s captors, abducts him from the forest — ostensibly, simply to spite Rabban Harkonnen and his fellow huntsmen. As a final twist of the knife to her Harkonnen adversaries, Janess sees Duncan off to the Atreides homeworld of Caladan, inadvertently setting Idaho on a path that will change the course of galactic history.

Away from his family home, Leto Atreides is settling into life on Ix, but is soon to learn of the dark underbelly of this technological utopia. Since our protagonist’s arrival on the planet, “House Atreides” has teased the open question of who exactly builds the wondrous Ixian starships — and as Leto is horrified to learn, it’s the cave-dwelling Suboid underclass, whom the ruling class keep dulled on Spice Melange and religious zealotry.

Again, colorist Alex Guimarães effectively isolates Leto — the green of his coat stands out against the gray masses of the suboids and the surrounding caves. And like the source material, “House Atreides” is not afraid to cast its protagonist in a morally questionable light: Leto’s first thought is not for the injustice dealt to the planet’s underclass, but for the security of his aristocratic hosts’ planetary empire.

Despite the turning points in its primary narratives, “House Atreides #4” feels strangely hesitant to progress its other parallel storylines. This problem isn’t entirely unique to the fourth issue — each one has had its fair share of drawn-out scenes and inconsistent developments.

Now, right at the peak of the series’ most momentous occasions, even as its multiple narrative threads each approach a simultaneous boil, “House Atreides #4” brings the pacing issues to the forefront, letting some of its source material’s most iconic moments simmer just below the threshold of doing anything interesting.

Photo of Dune ComicThe most obvious case is this issue’s continuation of the Reverend Mother’s scene with Baron Harkonnen. Though it occupies a good four pages in the middle of the comic, the two characters have very little new to say to each other, rehashing their exchange from the last issue nearly verbatim.

The same can be said of Shaddam and Hasimir, the son and the advisor of the galactic Emperor, respectively. Though this is the first time we’ve made mention of the pair in these recaps, the memorable soon-to-be-usurpers of the source material have been relegated to rehashing the same exchange about said usurping at least once in every issue so far. To an extent, it seems that “House Atreides” attempts to emulate the original novel’s calculated, Machiavellian pacing. However, as it’s spread out across monthly installments in three-page chunks, it’s hard to tell whether “House Atreides” is going anywhere with this conspiratorial subplot.

Ultimately, these pacing issues aren’t enough to fully doom the adaptation, since Boom! Studios does nearly everything else impeccably. Its action is vibrant and exciting and its characters are treated with the same nuance that Frank and Brian Herbert imbued in them. It’s certainly a hard legacy to fill, and it remains to be seen whether Boom! Studios can nail these pacing issues in later installments. But for now, it’s safe to assume that “Dune: House Atreides” will continue to be flashy comic book fun.

Contact Olive Grimes at [email protected]. Tweet her at @ogrimes5.