Land of Black Gold (1950) is the 15th adventure of Tintin
, set in the troubled Middle East
. The story starts with car engines exploding due to contaminated petrol. Most forms of transport cut down on their use of fuel until the situation is rectified, hurting the world economy, while mutual suspicion among countries leads the world to the brink of war. Tintin decides to investigate and finds himself involved in international intrigues, centered on who controls the precious black gold.
The album re-introduces the villain Doctor J. W. Müller, who had debuted in The Black Island
(1938). It has a complex publication history. The original version of the story was published in 1939-1940. Set in the British Mandate of Palestine, it had Tintin caught up in the then-ongoing Mêlée à Trois
between the British colonial authorities, the Irgun (a zionist paramilitary force engaged in terrorist activities), and local Arab insurgents. Müller was depicted as a Nazi agent attempting to take advantage of the conflict.
The story was never completed due to the events of World War II
. Belgium was set under German occupation and Hergé could no longer depict Nazi villains, for obvious reasons. He discontinued the story and turned to safer story subjects for the duration of the War. In 1948, Hergé relaunched the story with several changes in art and script. The characters of Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus, created following the publication of the original version, were added to the plot. This version was completed by 1950. But already looked dated at the time. The British Mandate had ended back in 1948. The new countries of Israel
had emerged in its place, and the Arab-Israeli Conflict
In 1972, Hergé created a third version of the story that removed all references to actual locations and organizations. Changing the setting to the fictional country of Khemed, it featured a conflict between two of its internal factions, one under the reigning Emir Ben Kalish Ezab, the other under his rival Sheikh Bab El Ehr. The story had little to no resemblance to the then-ongoing Middle Eastern conflicts and removed significant characters from the previous versions.
- Arab Oil Sheikh: Both the Emir and the Sheikh profit through alliances with two rival oil companies - the Emir is allied to Arabex, the Sheikh to Skoil Petroleum. The latter finances Bab El Ehr's attempts to depose his rival, as this would allow Skoil to take over Arabex's oil concessions.
- Artistic License - Geography: The first two versions of the story took place in British Mandate Palestine, and Bab El-Ehr is a local insurgent against British rule rather than fighting directly with the Emir of Khemed (a name not heard until the revamped edition). As Tintin is led away into the desert, he eventually meets the oil-rich Emir Ben Kalish Ezab. Israel/Palestine famously has no oil in it. And Emir of what, anyway? Later editions have the story take place in a fictional country called Khemed.
- Better to Die Than Be Killed: Dr. Müller attempts to shoot himself in the head to avoid being captured...but his gun (which was given to him by Abdullah) turns out to only squirt ink.
- Bookcase Passage: Fireplace variant. Dr. Müller's study has a trapdoor entrance hidden in the fireplace.
- But I Digress: Oliveira de Figuera tells long, rambling (but apparently engrossing) stories about his family. Tintin later takes advantage of this by using him as a distraction while he infiltrates a villain's base.
- Car Meets House: A variation. Thomson and Thompson fall asleep while driving and their jeep goes through the wall of a mosque.
- Convenient Decoy Cat: Snowy serves as a Convenient Decoy Dog when a Sneeze of Doom almost gives Tintin away.
- Deus ex Machina: Captain Haddock turns up towards the end of the story to rescue Tintin. Haddock is virtually absent from the story until this point due to having been "mobilized" in the first page, and there is no explanation for his sudden appearance. He could hardly be aware of Tintin's exact whereabouts. Severely lampshaded: see It's a Long Story below.
- Education Through Pyrotechnics: Happens twice in this tale. An oil executive is telling Tintin that he is confident his team of scientists will find the answer as to why petrol is exploding without cause, when one of them rings to report failure. Oh and if they want him to continue, they'll have to build a new lab! In the end Professor Calculus finds the answer, but only after destroying a large part of Marlinspike Hall, much to Captain Haddock's outrage.
- Fly Crazy: Dr Müller swats away a wasp and in the process, accidentally knocks off everything on his desk. Including a box of sneezing powder, which causes Tintin (in disguise) to blow his cover.
- Foreign-Looking Font: The French cover (but not the English cover) has the words "L'or Noir" written in pseudo-Arabic calligraphy. The Arabic writing underneath is a correct translation of the title (though it wasn't in the first edition; this particular book was revised many, many times).
- George Lucas Altered Version: This story was changed drastically three times! In 1940, while it was being published in Le Petit Vingtième, the story referenced the 1939 Palestinian conflict. Half way the story, the Nazis invaded Belgium and the story was interrupted, ending right on a cliff hanger where Tintin is tied up by Müller and left behind in the desert. The final panel shows him half buried in the sand while a sand storm breaks loose. After the war Hergé decided to revisit the story, but changed most of the plot. Then, during the 1960s British publishers asked him to make more significant changes. The direct references to Palestina and British colonial officers were removed and replaced by an a-political story set in a fictional Arabic country. This, of course, meant that a lot of drawings had to be redrawn again.
- Going in Circles: Thompson and Thomson end up going in circles in the desert when they decide to follow the tracks of a jeep not knowing they're following their own tracks. When they notice an increasing number of tracks, they just assume more jeeps joined the original one. They only break the cycle when they find a "lost" can of gas and notice they "also" lost their can and decide to go back and get it.
- It's a Long Story: Haddock meets Tintin at the end, and is very adamant in his repeated attempts to explain what happened to him offscreen ("It's quite simple - and, at the same time, rather complicated..."), only to be interrupted every time. Eventually, he gives up, Breaking the Fourth Wall to tell the reader "you'll never know!"
- Left Hanging:
- In the original 1940 story Tintin was tied up, lying in the desert during a sand storm when the Nazis invaded Belgium. The story would only be continued after the war, but the scene where Tintin is tied up during a sand storm wasn't used again, thus leaving the resolution of the plot to the readers' imagination.
- Ironically the new version also leaves a plot element hanging - how and why Haddock suddenly turned up in the end- but Hergé lampshades it by never giving him the chance to explain himself.
- The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Averted. Tintin was introduced in 1929 as a newspaper reporter. His adventures taking place when when he is sent to distant lands to report on them. But most of his later stories don't feature this aspect of the character. A brief scene at the beginning of this story stands as the last depiction of his reporting career in the entire series.
- Pity the Kidnapper: Abdullah is a very demanding captive. When he gets his hands on sneezing powder, the entire compound suffers.
- Punny Name:
- Many of the Arabic names and place names are bastardizations of the Marol dialect, a Flemish dialect spoken in Brussels. Hergé's mother spoke it and he remembered many phrases and expressions. Khemed, for instance is derived from "'k Hem 't" ("I've got it!") and Wadesdah from wat es da? ("What's that?"). Sheikh Bab El Ehr's name is a pun on "babbeler" ("talkative person"), Yussuf Ben Mulfid on moules-frites ("French fries with mussels") and Ben Kalisj Ezab is derived from "kalisjessap", which means "water from the sink".
- The capital of Khemed, an oil-exporting nation, is called "Khemikhal" in English.
- In French, the emir lives in Hasch El Hemm (an H.L.M. is a low rent housing block).
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Abdallah was based on a picture of Faisal II of Iraq when he was young.
- Riddle for the Ages: Captain Haddock shows up to rescue Tintin even though he was half a world away, and never gets around to explaining how that was possible. He's interrupted right after "It's both very simple and very complicated." (or, in the English version, "Well...you see, it's like this...")
- Ripped from the Headlines: The original story directly referenced the 1939 Palestinian conflict. This was later changed to a fictional Arabic country.
- Screwball Serum: Formula Fourteen is supposed to be an additive to petroleum that makes it incredibly explosive, but the Thompsons mistake it for aspirin. Their hair starts growing very rapidly and in bizarre colors, and their mouths emit bubbles.
- Shocking Voice Identity Reveal: Tintin finds something familiar about the saboteur leader's voice, but has trouble placing it until he meets his old enemy Doctor Müller.
- In the original French version The Thompsons listen to the song Boum by Charles Trenet on their car radio. Outside the francophone world this song is less known, so it was changed to an advertising jingle.
- Spirou and Fantasio: In the album Le Groom Vert-de-Gris, a re-imagination of Spirou set during the Nazi occupation of 1942, a bearded Nazi who looks exactly like Dr. Müller from Tintin in the Land Of Black Gold can be seen.
- Sneeze of Doom: On two occasions Tintin sneezes loudly while trying to hide from baddies. The first sneeze comes when he is hiding behind the storage tanks, but Snowy acts as a Convenient Decoy Dog. The second sneeze is after Dr. Müller accidentally knocks over a box of sneezing powder, which leads to a sneeze-filled Fight Scene.
- Spoiled Brat: Abdallah.