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A review of Tintin and Batman in The Clown Prince

by Rupert Griffin
art by Matthew Minnich

Aside from the 24 or so officially published Tintin books, two types of other Tintin books exist: unofficial parodies and semi-official Tintin spin-off books. The unofficial parodies are a mixed bunch. Usually they consist of 'swiped' Tintin art - that is, tracings of Hergé art from published books - jumbled together and with new plot and dialogue added. For a comic book equivalent, think of the Captain Victory re-release, where Kirby's original Pacifica book was cannibalised - the published art was reprinted and jumbled up with a new plot and word balloons. In short, these parodies are unimaginative and of low quality. (Usually Tintin parodies are pornographic as well. I don't have any objection to pornographic parodies of any characters, but these particular books are so badly done they don't even make good pornography). The only good Tintin parody I know of is Tintin in Thailand , which was brought to the attention of the media recently. The artwork in that piece - especially of the Thai scenery and people - is excellent: the Thai "forgers" obtained an inferior Belgian proto-Tintin in Thailand and decided to release their own version, which is, I'm told, superior to the original.

Now onto the semi-official spinoffs. The most famous of these is Tintin and the Lake of Sharks . Hergé had nothing to do with this: someone had made an animated movie based on the Tintin characters and then assembled the stills into a Tintin book. Hergé didn't want the book to be published and tried to challenge its release in court, but failed. (Again, something similar occured with Kirby, when, as an animator, he did the storyboards for an FF cartoon. The storyboards were then published as a "Jack Kirby" FF book).

Another semi-official spin-off is Tintin and Alph-Art . Two versions - forgeries really - of this book have been published. Hergé had drawn some rough thumbnails for the story but never released them; his sketches and doodles were unfinished at the time of his death. At least two artists of talent have used those sketches to "forge" complete, inked versions of Tintin and Alph-Art in the style of Hergé. The quality is good and the books are almost indistinguishable from the real thing.

Now onto Tintin and Batman in The Clown Prince . Steven Spielberg owns the rights to Tintin and several adaptations were made for Canadian TV, with the characters speaking in horrible North American accents instead of Belgian ones; Spielberg's Dreamworks Studio also allowed a crossover to be made for Canadian TV - a crossover where Tintin and Warner Bros' Batman teamed up for an adventure. This has been released, with objections from the Hergé Foundation (which represents the vastly profitable Hergé estate). As a Tintin collector, I felt compelled to buy it.

Tin Tin and Batman!

I expected something terrible, but it's not bad. It reminds me of those old Marvel and DC team-ups - Spiderman and Superman, Hulk and Batman, the X-Men and the New Teen Titans. As such, we see the formula at work, where heroes trade each others' villains. In this story, Tintin squares off against the Joker (who else?) and Batman squares off against Roberto Rastapopolous, who appeared in around half-a-dozen Tintin books. (In his last appearance - in Flight 714 - he was abducted by a UFO. The anonymous creators of The Clown Prince actually provide an explanation for how Rastapopolous returned to Earth). Despite the formula, and self-conscious parodying of the Tintin series - for instance, Professor Calculus is forced by the two villains to build rockets similar to those he designed in Destination Moon - the book is readable, more readable than the Batman books today, for instance. It all proceeds at a simple level; it reminds me of those Batman colouring books - which contained a full-length Batman story which the child reader was meant to colour - which knocked me out as a kid.

It's interesting that the Batman in this book is closer to the old Bronze Age Batman, who routinely did detective work and escaped death-defying traps in clever ways. In other words, this Batman is the old, "phony" Caped Crusader, as opposed to the modernised, Dixonised Batman who broods on Gotham rooftops and occasionally descends to beat up the Joker now and then, with the appropriate level of existential angst. That evocation of Batman's roots is inevitable if the Batman character is to be made to work in what is a Tintin story. Tintin is a reporter, not a detective, but he does specialise in solving mysteries and embarking on adventures - he appears in stories which have plots, unlike most of today's comics. Tintin is not a super-ninja, in the way Batman is meant to be now; he's a sleuth, like the old Batman, who can fight and shoot a little.

What is the plot of this book? Well, it's a contrivance - like those old Marvel/DC teamups - to bring Batman and Tintin together. The Joker and Rastapopolous have kidnapped leading rocket scientists and forced them to build long-distance rockets, which are fired at ships which pass by the Isle of Black Pearls, where the two villains reside. The rockets are filled with the Joker's laughing-gas (the non-lethal variety) and, upon hitting their targets, release the gas which incapacitates the ship's crew and leaves them vulnerable to Rastapopolous' and the Joker's hi-jackers. Tintin becomes involved after his friend, Professor Calculus, is kidnapped; Batman, after Wayne Shipping boats are hijacked. (Yes, that's right, in this book, Batman as Bruce Wayne is a captain of industry, like in the old days; as such, he's expected to put in an appearance as Bruce Wayne at the CEO board meetings now and then).

As I said before, this is rudimentary comic-booking. But all good comics - even Western and War ones - use simple plot mechanisms in order to get readers (mainly children) interested. The trick is to make the book special, and not let the story bumble along from contrived plot-point A to contrived plot-point B. Usually, the saving grace of a conventional genre comic is the artwork, as was the case with Joe Kubert's art for Sgt. Rock and The Unknown Soldier . Here, unfortunately, a contest has occured between the American style and the European style of artwork - the DC way and the Hergé way respectively, and the Americans have won. The artwork is unremarkable, DC-type hackwork; but it's pre-nineties hackwork, and as such, does the job. It's better to read a book with bad artwork which makes sense than flashy artwork which makes no sense: compare Bronze Age comics with today's comics, full of artistic sound and fury signifying nothing, and you'll see what I mean.

To sum up. I wouldn't recommend this book to Bat fans - at least, today's Bat fans - at all: they wouldn't like it. 'What', they would say, 'where's the brooding? And why does Batman have a crime laboratory in the boot of his Batmobile? Batman doesn't need to do detective work; he always knows where the villains are and what they're doing without the aid of detective skills. And there's too much plotting!'. Well, those fans can't be expected to like seventies and eighties Batman either: their Batman and ours are two different people.

What of Tintin fans? If they can bear the notion that this is a book which is not Hergé Foundation-approved, they may enjoy it. The Canadian animated versions of Tintin fell down because they were too Canadian; here, the writers of the Batman-Tintin animated episodes (which I haven't seen, unfortunately) achieved a fine balance between Belgium and America. They've done the sufficient amount of research to write dialogue in the spirit of Hergé's characters (they do a good job with Tintin's side-kick, Captain Haddock). I'm surprised that Tintin and the Bronze Age Batman combined so well together. But best of all, the story's artwork is original, without any 'swipes' from Hergé's published books. Like Tintin and Thailand , it's done with care.

 
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Artwork is © 2001 by Matthew Minnich
This piece is © 2001 by Rupert Griffin.
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