REVIEW: second volume of Dune graphic novel heads deep into Sietch Tabr

Abrams ComicArts has just released the second volume of its Dune graphic novel adaptation, with art by Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín, and text adapted by Frank Herbert's son, Brian, and frequent collaborator Kevin J. Anderson.

The first volume of Abrams' Dune adaptation brought the story (for those familiar) up to the end of the Harkonnen / Sardaukar assault on Arrakeen, with Paul and Lady Jessica escaping into the desert. In my review of that book, I speculated that the then-upcoming Villeneuve film adaptation of Dune would break at a similar point. This turned out to be wrong — but, having now read the second graphic novel, I think Abrams ComicArts' made the better decision. (Also worth noting that there is a separate graphic novel adaptation of the Dune film adaptation, which has nothing to do with the Abrams ComicArts adaptation of the novel that I'm talking about here.)

Whereas volume 1 felt like a highly accurate but highly streamlined adaptation of the first half of the novel, this second volume feels much more intimate and richly lived in. Perhaps that's because there are fewer characters to deal with, and much less backstory to hurriedly cram in between the panels. The story contained in volume two essentially follows Paul and Jessica as they traverse the desert — first by themselves, and then in the company of the Fremen of Sietch Tabr, who eventually come to adopt the surviving Atreides into their tribe. By the end of this graphic novel — mild spoilers, though not for the original book — Paul has adopted the name of "Maud'dib," and Lady Jessica has drank the water of life, becoming the new Reverend Mother of the Fremen (and also hyper-evolving the fetus in her womb in the process, oops).

These moments in particular are crucial to the overall story of Dune, and, like the infamous Gom Jabbar scene, are typically given a lot of weight in adaptations (and in fandom memories). But where the clumsily-titled DUNE: The Graphic Novel, Book 2: Muad'Dib truly succeeds is in the moments in-between these iconic instances of transformation. I've read Dune at least 4 times, and sure, I could technically explain to you what happens after Paul and Jessica go into the desert and meet the Fremen. But with a few exceptions (like the Maud'dib moment and the Water of Life), this section always felt like exposition to me — not necessarily spinning the wheels, but a quiet part of the book where we learn a lot of things that are crucial for the final showdown at the end of the book. Thanks to the visual nature of this graphic novel adaptation, however, this part of the story feels so much more real. There is something so much more visceral in seeing the impact of — for example — Paul taking his first human life, or the revelation of the Sietch's water cache. These quiet, obligatory moments take on new resonance. There's almost an air of a slow-burning thriller percolating between the panels, too. The artwork drips with the ominous tension — at first, a misplaced fear of the Fremen, and then, a very valid fear of the awful acts that Paul sees in his prophecies. Even the value of water and the promise of terraforming resonated with me in different ways after seeing a visual depiction on the page (although admittedly, some of that may be because of the ongoing drought and the fact that it's been over 90 degrees almost every day for the last month).

If you're going to serialize Dune, this is the way to do it. While I criticized the first graphic novel adaptation for being too sprawling, I also recognized how that was also a necessary evil, given the way the story is structured. But this second volume lets you get close to a limited number of characters, and truly feel for them. This is true even with the few quick scenes in the Harkonnen home on Giedi Prime. It's a different experience when you can see The Beast Rabban's jealousy towards his younger brother, Feyd-Rautha. Even Thufir Hawat's reluctant cooperation reeks of tragedy. Hell, I even cared about Count Fenring for the first time ever — remember him? The Emperor's BFF, who was also a failed Kwisatz Haderach because he was a "genetic eunuch?" In the original novel, he seems like yet another piece of rich world building, whose existence I can understand, but can't connect with; here, I'm actually interested in the little weasel-faced assassin.

I liked the first volume of Abrams ComicArts' Dune adaptation, but I loved DUNE: The Graphic Novel, Book 2: Muad'Dib.