Tintin: Explorers on the Moon
Medium: comic
Year: 1952
Writer/artist: Herge
Keywords: Tintin
Format: 62 pages
Website category: Comics
Review date: 11 April 2021
Whoah. That was a lot stronger than its prequel. There's still some comedy, but the way the story ends isn't funny at all. This story has a grimly realistic view of space travel and insufficient oxygen, with a villain who's absolutely right when he says they can't all return to Earth alive. There's also a suicide. Death is nothing new in a Tintin story, but the suicide made Herge's editors (Catholic clergy) so nervous that they made him add a line to the suicide note saying, "Perhaps by some miracle I will survive as well."
That guy went spacewalking without a suit. Yeah, right. Oh, and he's a sympathetic villain with a conscience who'd only done the things he did because he'd been forced into them. Given that our heroes nearly die of oxygen starvation while returning to Earth even as it is, his actions probably did save them.
Meanwhile, the story's real villain is a cold son-of-a-bitch who breaks a dog's leg and is completely serious about murdering everyone. There's absolutely no comedy with him, although admittedly he does have a Bond Villain moment when he ties up Tintin with inadequate knots instead of just shooting him.
I was impressed. It's a strong story. It ends excitingly. Professor Calculus's cheerful reminders that everyone might die are initially funny, but then stop being so.
Our heroes are amusing. There's less feeble comedy than last time, although it must be said that Thomson and Thompson are absurdly stupid. They're fun, but they're incompetence on legs. They accidentally stow away (leading to the oxygen crisis and deaths), untie the baddie and never achieve any task they're given. They also think a lunar sea means the seaside, although that's only in the English translation. (The original has a gag conversation based around a lunar crater being called a circus in French.)
The science looks worse than last time, yet the weirdest-looking stuff is often correct. Hurrah for Herge's research in 1952, although sometimes he just gets lucky.
1. When flying from the Earth to the moon, our heroes encounter 2101 Adonis, described as a dwarf planet which orbits between Mars and Jupiter. What the hell? That's... uh, a long way off course. Despite Professor Calculus's description, though, it's plausible. 2101 Adonis has an extremely eccentric orbit that makes it a potentially hazardous asteroid and near-Earth object.
2. I enjoyed the portrayal of zero gravity in space, low gravity on the moon and pseudo-gravity that's a result of the rocket's acceleration and so can be turned on and off. Our heroes have brought magnetic boots. All that's good. However, it might seem problematic with the rocket's descent at the end, which on casual inspection might seem to be crushing everyone with the same G-force they experienced on launch. (Very different. Launch is blast-off. Descent is just controlled falling.) In fact, though, you can see that Tintin's managing to move around okay and in fact what's clobbering our heroes is oxygen deprivation.
3. The moon is portrayed as once having had water. Latest scientific word is that this might actually be true, although admittedly not in the quantities shown here.
Then, on the other hand, there's all the stuff Herge is impressively careful with. Space doesn't transmit noise because it's airless, which is actually demonstrated when a meteorite smacks down behind Tintin and Haddock. Stars don't twinkle when you're not in an atmosphere. Lunar days are indeed much longer than terrestrial ones. Also, importantly, his pictures of the lunar surface are superb and you'll be pinching yourself to think that this was drawn in 1952.
The rocket comes down in a way NASA later decided they couldn't do, but I don't mind that. The transparent bubble helmets are deliberate artistic licence, since Herge knew perfectly well that in real life you'd want mostly opaque ones. No, the only thing he gets wrong is weight. Space travellers have to count every ounce. This lot are overflowing with stowaways and take a tank for lunar forays. Yes, a tank. Those armoured things with guns and caterpillar treads (although this one's gun is missing). I took one look at that and hooted.
That was a lot better than I'd expected. I hadn't remembered Tintin being this hard-hitting, although admittedly there's still the gang's usual comedy. Professor Calculus is a hoot (and obviously the hero of this two-parter). Captain Haddock smuggles whisky aboard, gets drunk and decides to walk home. (He gets a spacesuit and climbs out of the rocket.) Overall, it's impressive.