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Recap / Tintin: Explorers on the Moon

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After the events of Destination Moon Tintin, Haddock, Snowy, Professor Calculus and his assistant Frank Wolff are currently en route to the Moon in Calculus' rocket. Shortly into the trip however, a serious predicament arises: Thomson and Thompson are found inside the rocket, having decided to "guard it" and having thought the time of the launch was at 1:34 PM instead of 1:34 AM — the oxygen supply was designed for four people (plus Snowy), not six.

From that point on, the trip is still plagued with difficulties: the Thompsons accidentally turn off the nuclear motor, leading to microgravity hijinks; Haddock gets drunk on some smuggled whiskey, goes on an impromptu space walk and starts orbiting around an asteroid, forcing Tintin to rescue him and the Thompsons are still suffering occasional relapses of the bizarre condition caused by their ingestion of Formula Fourteen. Despite all this, the rocket successfully lands on the Hipparchus Crater and Tintin becomes the first man to walk on the moon.

They quickly proceed to unpack their scientific payload and explore Earth's natural satellite. Unfortunately the trip has to be cut short not only because of the oxygen issue but due to a far graver development: the spy subplot of the previous book comes to a head when Colonel Jorgen is revealed to have stowed away on the rocket with a gun, and Wolff is revealed as his accomplice and the foreign power's mole in the center. Wolff, who was informed that Jorgen was simply there to observe the expedition is horrified when he finds out Jorgen's plan is to steal the rocket for his employers and maroon everyone else on the Moon. Wolff is forced to launch the rocket at gunpoint but Tintin manages to sabotage it and foil the plot. After interrogating the two, they are locked in the hold but Tintin's move had a grave price: the rocket will have to be repaired while the oxygen supply quickly dwindles.

After leaving the Moon in haste and an incorrect trajectory which causes them to waste even more time and oxygen, Jorgen manages to break free and regain his gun, intending to kill the rest of the crew. He and Wolff struggle causing Jorgen to shoot himself in the heart, killing him instantly. Eventually, Wolff decides to sacrifice himself by leaving the rocket without the others' knowledge so that they have enough oxygen to make it to Earth, leaving a note asking for forgiveness.

The rocket lands on autopilot in Syldavia, with the entire crew unconscious from lack of oxygen. Despite a brief scare with Haddock, everyone has survived. Calculus makes a grand speech claiming that man will return to the moon — prompting an enraged Haddock to vow never to enter a rocket again, claiming that "Man's proper on dear old Earth!"


  • Accidental Astronaut: Shortly after Calculus's rocket has taken off, the protagonists realize that the Thompsons, who were supposed to be on guard before the launch, are still inside because they mistook the time of the takeoff. The two end up being obliged to participate in the exploration of the Moon.
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Under the influence of whiskey, Haddock attempts to go back to Earth by going on an unassisted spacewalk, without metal boots also. Fortunately, Tintin rescues him back into the rocket, before (as Calculus described it) asteroid Adonis gets a new satellite named Haddock.
  • Almost Out of Oxygen: The biggest problem during the book, beginning with the discovery that the Thompsons accidentally found themselves on board during liftoff... and even that doesn't cover the extent of the stowaways on board. It's solved partly by the decision to leave the Moon early, and partly by the Heroic Sacrifice of The Mole.
  • Artificial Gravity: Which of course gets accidentally switched off just when the Captain breaks out his hidden bottle of whisky, allowing for some early sight gags before the book's tone turns sour.
  • Artistic License – Physics: In the story, the Moon landing produces exactly the same amount and direction of pressure they all suffered in the takeoff, that is, vertical and downwards. Going without mentioning that an inverse acceleration should intuitively produce pressure in the opposite direction (vertical and upwards), a free descent gently decelerated by the main engine acting as a retro-rocket would generate infinitely less vertical acceleration than a takeoff, unless they wanted to get propelled into space again instead of performing a landing.
  • Artistic License – Space:
    • Discovering there were two accidental stowaways (which is by itself a jarring circumstance) would have been enough to abort a real life space mission and force them to return to Earth. In this particular case, with their fictional spaceship being a nuclear-powered SSTO, the decision would have been even more reasonable given that the logistic expenses of a brief return and a second takeoff would have been minimal. But that, of course, would have removed all the drama from the story.
    • The rocket carries a landing vehicle, in this case a presurized tank with its own airlock, but it is such a heavy and cumbersome thing that it doesn't even fit in the rocket and has to be cobbled together from pieces (itself an engineering feat that is left sadly offscreen, with a bit of Hammerspace thrown in), making it very unlikely that a real life space agency would have wanted to include such thing in their very first trip.
  • Ascended Extra: Colonel Jorgen. In his first appearance in King Ottokar's Sceptre he was a pretty minor character who disappeared halfway through the book and was never mentioned again. In this volume, he proves himself to be one of Tintin's most out-and-out heartless and dangerous foes.
  • Backhanded Apology: In the French version, Haddock has to apologize to the Thompsons for saying that a circus (actually a Moon crater, called a circus in French) needed two clowns, and that they would suit perfectly. He then proceeds to "apologize" by saying that the circus does not need two clowns, therefore they would not suit perfectly. One of the Thompsons tries to ponder on what that actually implies, but the other is perfectly happy with this. The English version changes the confusion to the Thompsons thinking the Sea of Nectar is the seaside, and Haddock claims that they're looking for two Punch and Judy men on the pier, for which they would suit perfectly. The apology goes about the same way, with Haddock "explaining" that they're not hiring after all, which doesn't address the insult at all.
  • Bowdlerization: In the Belvision version, Captain Haddock isn't drunk when he is pulled into orbit - instead, his feet hurt, so he takes his metal boots off.
  • Burial in Space: It doesn't occur on the page, but the heroes jettison Jorgen's body into space. And, of course, Wolff's fate is comparable, although chosen himself.
  • Cold Equation: Since oxygen becomes a problem fairly soon in this story, this dilamma pops up in the second part of the book. Jorgen wants to solve it by eliminating everyone except Wolff and him, Tintin is dead set against it even if it means their deaths, and Wolff sacrifices himself for this very reason.
  • Cutting the Knot: Being back on Earth, Mission Control Mr. Baxter mostly has to use rather creative methods to help the protagonists in space. But when the rocket finally lands and the crew can't open the doors because they've already passed out from lack of oxygen, Baxter just elects to hack the rocket open with electric saws to get them out in time.
  • Dead Man Writing: Wolff leaves a letter explaining his suicidal action and asking for forgiveness.
  • Delayed Reaction: It takes one of the Thompsons a few panels to realise that Haddock insulted them by comparing them to clowns (Punch and Judy men in the English versions). It also takes some time for him to realise that Haddock did not apologise (see Backhanded Apology above), but he is interrupted before he can complete his thought.
  • Dramatic Space Drifting: During their spacewalk, Haddock is pulled into the orbit of the asteroid and drifts off. Tintin manages to pull him back aboard with a risky maneuver.
  • Easily Forgiven: Played with regarding Wolff, after the reveal he was The Mole; the characters react differently to his betrayal, with Calculus expressing shocked disbelief, Tintin forgiving him after he stopped Jorgen from shooting them, and Haddock being infuriated, only forgiving him after his Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Exact Time to Failure: Averted. Although estimations are made about how long it will take for the oxygen supply to deplete, it is made clear that it is simply that: Estimations. Even when the characters use spare oxygen tanks to improve their odds, they're not sure how much difference they've actually made.
  • Exact Words: Haddock, not trusting Wolff, orders Thomson to keep an eye on him and inform them of anything he might be doing in their back. Thomson does just that- but fails to actually prevent Wolff from doing anything funny.
  • Foreshadowing: When the Thompsons emerge from the hold, Wolff is the only one drawn with an exclamation mark, because he thought it was Jorgen coming up.
  • Good Is Dumb: Indirectly invoked by Jorgen when he escapes on the return trip, pointing out that while Tintin's morals may not have allowed disposing of him and Wolff, he himself has no compunctions about executing the rocket crew in order to ensure that he makes it home alive.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Frank Wolff leaves the rocket so that the others have enough oxygen to survive the trip back home.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Haddock snarkily comments that the Thompsons always need to find some way to get noticed when they begin exhibiting the symptoms from their poisoning from Tintin: Land of Black Gold. This happens mere minutes after Tintin managed to save him after he decided to leave the rocket while drunk, putting his and the whole crew's lives in danger.
  • I'm Not Doing That Again: When Calculus proposes making a return trip to the moon, Captain Haddock absolutely refuses to take part.
    Haddock: May I be turned into a bollard, blistering barnacles, if I so much as set foot in your flying coffin again! Never, d'you hear? You interplanetary goat, you! Never!!
  • Immediate Sequel: The only Tintin book whose beginning seamlessly dovetails in from the previous one.
  • Insane Troll Logic: The Thom(p)sons are out on a jaunt on the moon, when they spot human tracks. They immediately radio back with the news that there are other people on the moon! When Calculus points out the blatantly obvious — that the tracks were made by one of their own crew members — the Thom(p)sons retort that that's impossible — because there are TWO sets of tracks!
    Calculus: Then they're footsteps made by two of us, nitwit!... I expect you've gone back on your tracks, and those are your footmarks!
    Thomson: Great Scotland Yard! Have we been going round in circles, following our own tracks — as in the desert?
    Thompson: Definitely not! Because there are two sets of tracks, and we're alone!
  • In Space, Everyone Can See Your Face: Hergé was well aware that the space suits would require opaque helmets much like the astronauts we see today, but then the readers wouldn't be able to tell who was Haddock and who was Tintin. So, for their convenience he made the helmets transparent and more fish bowl shaped.
  • Karma Houdini: Miller, due to none of the characters even knowing about his involvement.
  • Kick the Dog: Jorgen breaks Snowy's leg.
  • Killed Offscreen: Jorgen and Wolff died outside the view of the reader.
  • The Load: Thomson and Thompson are easily the most incompetent they've ever been here. Not only do they accidentally stow away on-board the rocket (leading to the oxygen crisis), unwittingly release Jorgennote  and generally make a nuisance of themselves throughout the storyline, at no point do they ever do anything that even vaguely helps the mission, unless you count Thomson's not stopping Wolff when he sneaks out to eject himself into space (and even then Thomson failed at the job he was actually given).
  • Mocking Music: The gang listens to Radio-Klow while working to repair the ship... and as soon as it comes on, the announcer says they'll be playing Schubert's "The Gravedigger".
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: Haddock regrets his harsh words against Wolff once he learns of his Heroic Sacrifice.
  • No-Nonsense Nemesis: Unlike other villains in the series, Jorgen puts all the recurring cast into life-threatening danger, not just Tintin; and is played completely seriously, not facing any of the series' usual slapstick comedy.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: While Jorgen clearly has no qualms about the prospect of marooning Haddock, Calculus and the detectives on the moon, he isn't motivated so much by revenge — especially considering that he never met the detectives in his debut story, while Haddock and Calculus didn't make their own debuts until later — as the simple fact that were he and Wolff to take them prisoner, they'd be trying to sustain seven people on oxygen supplies meant for four, and wouldn't have a prayer of making it back to Earth alive.
  • The Pratfall: Haddock when he says his final line, so he's lying on the ground.
  • Properly Paranoid: Subverted; Haddock doesn't trust Wolff even after Tintin gave him back his post in the crew, and asks the Thomsons to keep an eye on him should he attempt anything behind their back. As it turns out, he does- namely, a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Wolff throws himself out the airlock so that the rest of the explorers will have enough oxygen to get back to Earth. Considering that they just barely make it back alive (and still need supplemental oxygen administered), his sacrifice probably did make a difference.
  • Reentry Scare: Good lord, yes. Admittedly, the tension involved doesn't really concern the condition of the spacecraft itself so much as the condition of its crew, but all the same, both taking off and landing the craft are consistently depicted as extremely uncomfortable and frightening experiences. One imagines that these sequences alone may have freed more than a few goggle-eyed youngsters in multiple generations from their "I wanna be an astronaut!" phase.
  • Seen-It-All Suicide: Discussed when Calculus mentions that after seeing Earth from more than 10,000 kilometers, you can die happy. Tintin counters with it being fine, but he himself would rather wait a few years.
  • Single Malt Vision: Thinking everyone is doomed, Captain Haddock decides he may as well get drunk. He then insults Thompson and Thomson, causing them to angrily demand an apology, to which Haddock complies because he feels intimidated from seeing the two men as four persons.
  • Sneaky Departure: Frank Wolff has to go about his Heroic Sacrifice in a stealthy manner, lest the others wake up and try to dissuade him. Of course, Thomson wakes up and, showing the presence of mind expected of them, permits him to go down into the hold anyway.
  • Space Clothes: Enormous bulky amber-colored spacesuits, representing a very endearingly retro vision of lunar operations (the book was published in 1954, a good fifteen years before Neil Armstrong's historic jaunt). When suited up, the characters look like fat C-3PO units.
  • Space Is an Ocean: Hinted at when the nautical-minded Captain Haddock threatens to maroon the Thompsons on a desert star while in space.
  • Space Is Noisy: Deliberately refuted in the original comic. The animated version by Belvision embraced this trope, however: while the meteor was silent in the original comic, in the cartoon there is a meteor shower that makes a lot of noise.
  • Space Suits Are SCUBA Gear: Notably averted, despite how classically retro the spacesuit design looks otherwise. There are no vulnerable oxygen tubes on the exterior of the suit.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Both Jorgen and Wolff survive in the Belvision adaptation of the story. Averted in the Nelvana adaptation, however.
  • Sticky Shoes: The crew are issued magnetic boots in case the engine (and its' gravity-mimicking acceleration) cuts out. Captain Haddock is still tying his on when they turn it off to decelerate.
  • Tech Marches On: The rocket operates by the "direct ascent" model of the whole rocket landing and later leaving on the moon in one piece. Later, NASA concluded that they could never make such a vehicle land tail down safely and went with the method of "Lunar orbit rendezvous," having the rocket traveling in ejecting stages and using a separate lander to land on the moon with the command capsule waiting in orbit to link back up and return to Earth.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: Wolff decides to leave the rocket and let himself wander in space until his death as a Heroic Sacrifice to ensure the others can get to Earth alive.
  • Tragic Villain: Frank Wolff was the first character in the Tintin universe who wasn't particularly good, but not particularly bad either. He sides with Colonel Jorgen to sabotage the flight, but is more or less manipulated by him. When Jorgen wants to shoot everybody Wolff protests and interferes, killing Jorgen accidentally with his own gun. Wolff is forgiven by Tintin, but later feels remorse and decides to commit suicide by throwing himself out of the rocket so that the others can safely travel home again.
  • Unexpectedly Dark Episode:
    • While people have been killed in a number of Tintin stories, this is the first to cover the topic of suicide, excluding Mitsuhirato's suicide near the end of The Blue Lotus.
    • The vast majority of characters who die during the series are spared by the Nelvana animated adaptation. Neither Jorgen nor Wolff is afforded that treatment in the adaptation of this story, making it seem much darker than the rest of the series.
    • Tintin and crew has been in danger of dying several times, but here, they risk being left alone on the moon, tapping into the primal fear of being left alone in an unfamiliar world.
  • Villain Has a Point: While Jorgen's actions are firmly villainous, his reasoning proves entirely correct; with three more passengers than planned, plus the various delays encountered, the characters are running out of oxygen, and it's pretty clear that despite Tintin's best efforts, they cannot hope to survive in the current situation. In the end, only after Jorgen's accidental suicide and Wolff's Heroic Sacrifice do they manage to survive the trip, and even then they only barely make it.
  • Welcome Back, Traitor: Tintin accepts Wolff back into the crew after Jorgen is killed.
  • You Had Us Worried There: Mission Control is increasingly worried when there is no response from the rocket crew 30 minutes after their moon landing. Cue Tintin hailing that all is good.