This week, we see a story with little background. There’s no hiding from politics here, perhaps only when making changes for different editions, but we find ourselves in a sort of sci-fi adventure.
The story opens with Tintin walking home one night and noticing that one of the constellations has an extra star. Both he and Snowy soon remark on how hot it is becoming. At home, he phones the observatory for an explanation, but when they won’t tell him anything, he heads there in person. He gets into the observatory (not completely honestly) and passes a man muttering about “the judgement”. The director of the observatory tells him that the star he saw was a fireball, heading for the earth – meaning the end of the world, resulting in the rather humorous panel shown below.
As he leaves the observatory, Tintin has to jump out of the way of a plague of rats coursing down the street, hears tyres bursting in the intense heat and rescue Snowy who has become stuck to the road in the melting tar. Soon, there is a great earthquake, which to the people on the streets surprise, Tintin is overjoyed by. He runs off to the observatory hoping for an explanation, which is that one of the scientists made a mistake on their calculations. While Tintin is there, one of the scientists discovers that he has discovered a new metal, which would be inside the meteorite, that instead of causing the end of the world has crashed into the Arctic ocean. Tintin points out that the metorite isn’t going to be completely engulfed by the water and finds himself volunteering for an expedition to find it.
They board the ship – captained by Haddock, making his return. First, Tintin sees someone running suspiciously off the ship and then Snowy finds a lit stick of dynamite, which he helpfully “puts out”. This sets Tintin and Haddock on high alert and then a member of the expedition team, Professor Cantonneau calls them for a word. Before they can reach him, he is struck down by somebody throwing a suitcase at him. The perpetrator, hanging high up in the rigging calls himself Philippulus the prophet, who Tintin had an encounter with at the beginning of the story. Phillippulus starts throwing dynamite down onto the ship, prompting Tintin to climb the rigging and talk him down.
The next morning they are preparing to set sail when they receive news that a rival ship the Peary has set sail on the same mission that they are to begin. We then see two men sat around a radio, listening to the report about Tintin’s ship and scheming. One of the men, Bohlwinkel has financed the expedition. In the original version of the story, the Peary is an American ship, proudly displaying the Stars and Stripes but in later editions, the American flag was removed, replaced by the Sao Rico flag, a fictional country invented by Herge for this occasion. The name of the ship, The Peary, stays after a famous polar explorer. Tintin’s ship sails on.
After a near miss with another ship, Tintin confides in Haddock his suspicion that somebody is trying to sabotage them. We see the two men from before again, this time despairing at another failed attempt to do away with The Aurora, the ship that Tintin and co are sailing on. When the men hear they have reached Iceland, they send a message to the oil company, of which Bohlwinkel is the owner, not to sell any oil to the Aurora, which soons stops the ship in its tracks. Haddock soon meets one of his old sailor friends on the dock who explains why the ship has been denied fuel, but Tintin soon comes up with a plan – siphon the fuel from one ship to another – and with this done, the ship sails off again.
A week later, they manage to track down the meteorite, but realise that the Peary has also managed it too. When trying to catch up, the ship receives a distress call, forcing the crew to make a decision – turn back and help the ship in trouble, or ignore it and carry on. As the Aurora is the “good” ship in this adventure, I’m sure you can guess what the final decision is. After some investigation, Tintin discovers that the SOS call was a fake, possibly sent out by the Peary, knowing they’d fall for it. They soon intercept a signal from the Peary, they have the meteorite in sight. Haddock feels they have been beaten, but Tintin insists that they haven’t and orders he go out in the seaplane to try to beat the Peary.
They reach the meteorite before the Peary, Tintin parachuting down from the seaplane and placing the flag before they can. It doesn’t seem that there is any attempt to get Tintin off the meteor, except for one member of the opposing team wanting to shoot him before his parachute lands, though the man is swiftly stopped by another in his crew. The pilot of the seaplane has to turn back – the Aurora is having engine problems and won’t reach the meteor for at least three days, and they have limited supplies stored on the seaplane. Tintin insists he is staying on the meteor, in case somebody tries to take it – an opportune moment for the crew of the Peary to do so when he is on the meteor alone, but an opportunity they do not take – five or six against one and a dog should have been rather easy.
Here, the story takes the strange sci-fi turn I mentioned at the beginning. Giant mushrooms start exploding all over the island and a tree begins to grow from an apple core Tintin discarded earlier on, huge apples soon falling from the tree. The meteor soon starts to tilt and sink, but luckily the seaplane returns to rescue Tintin and after a tricky rescue mission, they make it back to the ship – along with a piece of the meteor for the scientists.
We see Bohlwinkel listening to the radio as a report on the returning expedition is aired and his meddling in the expedition is revealed, much to his horror.
The Shooting Star was the first of the books to be published in the 62 page format we know today, but still had to have some additions to fit. The story begun in Le Soir in 1941 and the slight cataclysmic air at the beginning is an obvious signal of the seemingly never ending war that the world was stuck in at the time.
That’s all for now,
Next week: another nautical adventure awaits in The Secret of the Unicorn.