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Recap / Tintin: The Broken Ear

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The Broken Ear begins with a bizarre robbery. A fetish created by the South American Arumbaya tribe is stolen from the Museum of Ethnography, only to be returned the following day - apparently stolen only as a prank. Tintin realises the 'returned' fetish is a fake and quickly discovers that a local sculptor who specialised in making primitive art has died under odd circumstances. Rightly believing the theft and the sculptor's death to be linked, Tintin begins his investigation.

Having had a run-in with the crooks Ramon and Alonso (also on the elusive trail of the real fetish) Tintin takes ship for the troubled South American republic of San Theodoros, where he ends up caught up in a revolution and the intrigues that follow. Ending up close to the Arumbayas' territory, he decides to visit them in the hope of finding out why the fetish was worth stealing. Unfortunately Ramon and Alonso are still after the fetish and are fully willing to kill to lay their hands on it.

The Broken Ear introduced General Alcazar, later an important recurring character and ally of Tintin. With San Theodoros (and its neighbour Nuevo-Rico) Hergé also created the first of his fictional countries and languages - in the original French edition the Arumbayas speak a language based on Marollien (a Flemish dialect spoken in the regio of Brussels) and in the English translation they are speaking phonetic Cockney English!


  • Absent-Minded Professor: A prototype of Professor Calculus appears, so absent-minded that he carries his walking stick against the rain instead of an umbrella. When the parrot talks to him he apologizes and says: I'm sorry, I thought you were a parrot. He is also unable to see the parrot clearly because he doesn't have his glasses, they're in his coat pocket, but when his housekeeper reminded him to wear his coat, he mistakenly took her coat instead.
  • Adapted Out: Pablo and Trickler do not appear in the Animated Adaptation.
  • Alcohol Hic: The Colonel after some heavy drinking with Tintin.
  • Apologetic Attacker: The Colonel is terribly sorry to have to shoot Tintin.
  • Arch-Enemy: The Arumbayas are friendly and civilized folks, but they have a long-running feud with the Rumbabas, another native tribe who are savage killers.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Hergé drew the bananas on a banana tree upside-down.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: In the english version of the book, the dialog amongst the Indian tribesmen initially appears to be nonsensical foreign words. But if you read it all out loud, they are actually speaking what sounds a lot like cockney english! Not only that, but their dialog is pretty much true to the subsequent translations that Tintin receives from Ridgewell.
Ridgewell: Naluk. Djarem membah dabrah nai dul? Tintin zluk infu rit'h. Kanyah elpim?
(Now look, Do you remember the brown idol? Tintin's lookin' for it. Can you help him?)
Tribal Chief: Dabrah nai dul? Oi, oi! Slaika toljah. Datrai b'giv dabrah nai dul ta'Walker. Ewuz anaisgi. Buttiz'h felaz tukahr presh usdjuel. Enefda Arumbayas ket chimdai lavis gutsfa gahtah'z. Nomess in'h!
(The brown idol? Aye, aye! [It's] like I told you. The tribe give the brown idol to Walker. He was a nice guy. But his fellas took our precious jewel. And if the Arumbayas catch him, I'll have his guts for garters. No messing!)
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Trickler, of the American Oil Company, is perfectly willing to cause a war between the San Theodoros and the Nuevo-Rico over the Gran Chapo desert, just to get to exploit the oil that is hypothetically here, even trying to bribe Tintin to convince Alcazar to start the war and to try to have him assassinated and later have him imprisonned because Tintin refused. Also Basil Bazarov, the arms dealer, who sells the same cannons to both countries and helps Trickler frame Tintin by giving him a false document accusing Tintin of having sold his cannon's blueprints to Nuevo-Rico, so the war can happen.
  • Creator Provincialism: The Amazonian Indians speak a heavily distorted, but still recognizable version of the Marol dialect, spoken by Flemish people in Brussels. Hergé's mother was Flemish and he remembered her speaking it when he was little.
  • Darker and Edgier: Even ignoring the revolution and the war, The Broken Ear has the highest onscreen bodycount in the series: the sculptor Balthazar (killed by Tortilla), Tortilla (drowned by Alonzo and Ramon), Corporal Diaz (killed by his own bomb) and Alonzo and Ramon (drowned - and shown in Hell afterward). Additionally, while the story probably has more gags than the previous adventure the comedy tends towards the dark.
  • Deus ex Machina: Perhaps literally this time: Just when Alonzo is about to shoot a tied up Tintin, the house they're in is struck by lightning, and it sends Tintin flying out of the house!
  • Dragged Off to Hell: Alonzo and Ramon after being drowned are seen being dragged off by demons, presumably to hell. One of the few surreal events in the series. It may count as an Early-Installment Weirdness.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: This is the last book in the series where Tintin spends the whole storyline working by himself, with no assistance from any of the other recurring characters (unless you count Ridgewell). While Thomson and Thompson put in a brief appearance early on, it only lasts for two pages and could have been filled by any generic police officer(s).
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Tintin when dropping the journal in the street and reading the contents upside down.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Tintin's (empty) car when falling off the cliff.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: A paper boy promotes the news about war being declared.
  • Fascist, but Inefficient: The two dictators, General Alcazar and General Tapioca, are both so ineffective they constantly overthrow each other in the blink of an eye.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: As with most Tintin albums from the 1930s this one too was redrawn and colored in. Most of the story remained intact, save for a scene where Tintin has a Nightmare Sequence in which an Amazonian Indian blows a poison dart at him while sleeping. The scene was perhaps too reminscent to a similar nightmare sequence in The Seven Crystal Balls.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The Macguffin is referred to as a "fetish". A work written in contemporary time would now have it as "idol" or something along those lines rather than referring to it as a "fetish". Especially in a comic book typically given to children. While "gay" is often understood to have also meant "happy" at some point, "fetish" is mostly understood as a sexual reference.
  • Inevitable Waterfall: Tintin encounters one when he has to jump into the river.
  • Ironic Echo Cut: Once war is declared, the American oil man exults that they've beaten their British rival. The next panel has the British oil company representative happy that they can now get their hands on the San Theodoros oilfields, thus beating the Americans.
  • Karma Houdini: The odious oil man Trickler and arms manufacturer Bazarov who between them cook up a war.
  • Kudzu Plot: The trail of the fetish and who did what is rather tricky to follow. One critical point isn't explained at all, something Tintin directly lampshades.
  • Last-Minute Reprieve: Hilariously played with - Tintin is framed as a revolutionary and sentenced to death by firing squad, only to be saved when an officer rushes in with news that General Tapioca has been overthrown and Tintin can thus go free. As he is being untied another officer rushes in with news that Tapioca has defeated the revolution so Tintin will have to face the firing squad after all. Fortunately their rifles have been sabotaged, leading Tintin and the commander of the firing squad to share a friendly drink while they wait for the rifles to be fixed. By the time the rifles have finally been fixed the two men have had quite a few more drinks and are bombed out of their skulls, and the revolutionaries really have won.
  • Look Behind You: Tintin tricks Alonzo and Ramon this way when they apprehend him up in the jungle.
  • Meaningless Villain Victory: Trickler successfully manages to manipulate Alcazar into starting a war in order to seize control of the Gran Chapo fields and gain a monopoly over his rival company. However, not only does he fail to gain a monopoly on the fields (a treaty was signed dividing the fields equally between San Theodoros and the other side, who his rivals are backing) but it's later established that there was never any oil in the fields to begin with, making his portion utterly useless to him.
  • Mistaken for Badass: Tintin is about to be shot by firing squad when it turns out the weapons have been sabotaged. While they are being fixed the officer offers to have a drink with him. They both get drunk as a result and when Tintin is brought back to the firing squad, the officer didn't even bother to tie him up. While Tintin is trying to remain on his feet, he starts to sing Viva Alcazar, just when a counter revolution by Alcazar troops invades. He is immediately declared a courageous hero for singing his loyalty to Alcazar while standing in front of a firing squad. At this point, he doesn't even know who Alcazar is!
  • Mistaken for Fake Hair: Ramon and Alonso try pulling the beard of an old man they assume to be Tintin just to find out quickly that the beard is real.
  • National Stereotypes: San Theodoros, though not a real South American country, is shown as a place where revolutions and counter revolutions occur in rapid fashion. The Amazonian Indians are naïve childish people who use blow guns and shrunken head techniques. Mr. Goldbarr is a cigar smoking American billionaire.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Tintin creates the Pretext for War when he flees San Theodoros in a military vehicle, which is fired on by border guards of the country the conspirators want to invade.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Basil Bazarov, the arms dealer, is an allusion on real-life arms dealer Basil Zaharoff.
  • Not so Dire: Tintin and General Alcazar appear to be planning strategy, but they're actually playing chess.
  • Piranha Problem: When Tintin and Snowy fall into the river.
  • Posthumous Character: Lopez and Captain Walker die long before the story takes place.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The animated version removes the character of Rodrigo Tortilla from the story and has Lopez be not only the one to steal the fetish from the Arumbayas, but also to tell Ramon and Alonzo about it. This makes the story a little easier to follow. The subplots involving Colonel Diaz, the war between San Theodoros and Nuevo Rico and the Rumbabas are also dropped.
  • Punny Name: 'Korrupt Arms'. The Gran Chapo War is a pun on the Gran Chaco War (1932-1935) between Bolivia and Paraguay over the oil fields in the Gran Chaco region and the French word grand chapeau (big hat). The name Nuevo Rico is a pun on nouveau riche and its capital Sanfacion on sans façon (without manners).
  • Replaced with Replica: Tintin waits for an officier near a dock when he sees someone walking away with his suitcase, he starts for it but then sees that his suitcase is still right there. It turns out that the man he saw did swap Tintin's real suitcase for a fake full of bombs, and then tipped off the police.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The war between San Theodoros and Nuevo-Rico was based on the then very recent Gran Chaco War, which was indeed engineered by oil and arms companies on the promise of oil that turned out to be nonexistent.
  • Running Gag:
    • Ramon always throws his knifes too far to the right.
  • Shown Their Work: All the statues and art work seen in the museum are based on genuine art work found in the Brussels' Royal Museum of Art and History.
  • Shrunken Head: A native Amazonian Indian tribe wants to practice this technique on Tintin and Ridgewell.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Tintin spares Pablo's life and thus he comes to rescue him from prison. Also, arms dealer Basil Zaharoff is seen selling arms to both General Alcazar and immediately afterwards to his rival in the opposing country.
  • Sore Loser: The enraged General is Firing in the Air a Lot after losing a chess match to Tintin.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: As mentioned under Darker and Edgier, the book ends with Alonzo and Ramon falling into the sea, drowning, and being dragged to hell by black devils with pitchforks. In the famous 1990s animated series, Tintin manages to grab them and save them from drowning, sending them to prison instead.
  • Train Escape: Tintin's car just barely makes it past a train, which delays his pursuers. Unfortunately, their car catches up with his in the mountains.
  • Unknown Rival: Corporal Diaz begins a vendetta against Tintin and Alcazar, and not only does he do more harm to himself than to them, but half the time they don't even notice his attempts on their lives. In a moment of Dramatic Irony, he dies just as Alcazar decides to restore him to colonel.
  • Ventriloquism: Ridgewell gets himself and Tintin out of a sticky situation by using this technique.
  • Wall of Text: A couple of exposition speech bubbles by Ridgewell towards the end are pretty wally.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: Alonzo and Ramon drown at the end because they don't realise Tintin has escaped and each is trying to drown the other, thinking he's Tintin.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: Tintin is rather confused as to how he became a colonel, having been too drunk to remember the events of the previous day.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • It's unclear how Tortilla learned about Lopez and the fetish in the first place, something Tintin lampshades.
    • It's not shown what happened to the parrot after Alonzo and Ramon get the information they want out of it. Considering they are on the verge of killing it due to its annoyance this doesn't bode well for it.
  • Wrongly Accused:
    • The Arumbayas are considered by outsiders to be savage killers, but this is likely due to people confusing them with their rivals the Rumbabas, who more than live up to the stereotype.
    • Tintin is framed as a revolutionary by the people he's chasing. When he becomes Alcazar's aide instead and refuses to go along with the War for Fun and Profit scheme, he's framed again and has to flee the country. Though in subsequent stories Alcazar has either forgiven him or learned the truth somehow.