The proper name of this hardback is “Dune: The Graphic Novel, Book 1: Dune” (Abrams ComicArts, $24.99), which sounds a bit redundant. The preface explains this unfortunate nomenclature thusly: “The original novel was broken into three ‘books,’ (so) the graphic novel will be released in three separate volumes.” That refers to just the first book, mind you, not the many sequels.
Which is fine. Because this adaptation is aiming to be the most faithful ever, and given the length of the original novel by Frank Herbert, the creators need some room to play. After all, as anyone who has read the novel can attest, “Dune” is a whopper of a book that can’t be swallowed all at once.
If you haven’t read “Dune,” the elevator pitch is this: In the far future, a sprawling interstellar society straddles the galaxy. It’s extremely high tech, but its culture and politics are, perversely, somewhat medieval. The book focuses on House Atreides, which is feuding with House Harkonnen, with the former being assigned by the empire to take control of the planet Arrakis from the Harkonnens. Arrakis is a desert planet, referred to unofficially as “Dune,” from which we derive our title. The only real resource on Arrakis is “spice,” a drug which opens perceptions, allowing some individuals to become blissed-out celestial navigators, which is what makes interstellar travel possible. Also, there are Godzilla-size sand worms. The spice is so incredibly valuable that people live with the danger of the worms in order to mine it.
I was required by the Unspoken Rules of Geekdom (of Which I Cannot Speak) to read “Dune” in high school, as “Dune” is an essential book in the Geek Canon. I was thrilled by Herbert’s imagination and the intricacies of his world-building. I was less thrilled by the young protagonist Paul Atreides, who becomes the leader of a group of religious fanatics, because the locals think he’s the incarnation of their prophesied savior, Muad’dib.
I was too young at the time to realize that “protagonist” and “hero” are not interchangeable terms. Herbert wanted the reader to be uncomfortable with Paul, because religious fanaticism and addiction, even when on the side of the white hats, aren’t good things.
Which is why most adaptations to this point haven’t been able to capture what makes it such a landmark novel, whose concepts have been poached by other sci-fi works for decades. (Spice mines are mentioned in “Star Wars,” and a giant sand worm just showed up in “The Mandalorian.” You can probably think of a few more examples on your own.)
So if this adaptation of the book wants to take its time in order to make it “pure ‘Dune’ ” that’s OK. That’s ambitious, but the book has the right pedigree: It’s written by Herbert’s son Brian, and the author of approximately five bazillion SF books, Kevin J. Anderson. The art, by Raul Allen and Patricia Martin, isn’t flashy but is clear and clean.
All in all, I was more than satisfied, and am eagerly looking forward to “Dune: The Graphic Novel, Book 2: Electric Booga-Dune” and “Dune: The Graphic Novel, Book 3: The Dune-Dune-Duniest.” Or whatever they choose to call them.