Top critical review
77 people found this helpful
The first Tintin, rough but ready.
on March 15, 2002
Tintin is sent by his Brussels newspaper to expose the true conditions of life in Bolshevik Russia, and counter the propaganda spread by Soviets and their Western fellow-travellers. Together with his faithful fox terrier Snowy, Tintin finds famine, child hunger, bureaucratic incompetence, industrial failure, bogus propaganda, state terror, gunpoint elections and massive embezzlement of the people's wealth by the government. Naturally, the Soviets aren't terribly keen for such information to leak out, and attempt to dispatch our hero at every turn - trying to bomb, shoot at, torture and freeze him in the endless snowy Steppes.
'Tintin In The Land Of The Soviets' is the first Tintin adventure, written in 1929 for a Catholic newspaper edited by a priest who would become a Nazi collaborator. The book's propaganda is crude - as the translators point out, Herge never visited Russia, and based his 'facts' on a contemporary, reactionary book by a Belgian consul - and leaves a sour taste in the mouth. It's not that what he shows wasn't accurate - his Soviet Russia is a totalitarian nightmare, swarming with vicious secret police; a place where citizens had their property stolen and labour abused; where starvation, torture and murder was rife; where more state effort went into destruction than construction. The book is filled with booze-sozzled goons are frightening precisely because they have a power they don't deserve. A lingering superstitiousness undermines this brave new world, and the images are full of delapidation and things crashing and falling apart - nothing can possibly work in such an environment. The 'Wizard of Oz'-like scene where a guide shows gullible English communists industrial marvels that are really two men billowing smoke and rattling sheet metal, is horribly accurate. This comic look at misery and tyranny looks forward to the Czech films of the 60s. Nonetheless, the book never becomes satire, never moves beyond popular prejudices - the critique in 'Tintin In America' is far more effective because Herge displays a more thorough knowledge of and engagement with US history and culture.
The 'Tintin's we are familiar with now - painstakingly illustrated, beautifully coloured and meticulously detailed albums - only came into being in the mid-40s: earlier editions were redrafted and edited to fit the new format. This book was the only one Herge didn't remodel, perhaps embarrassed in retrospect by its crass ideology. Reading 'Soviets' after one of the later 'Tintin's is like watching an Ub Iwerks cartoon after 'Toy Story'. The drawing is sometimes cruder and much less detailed than we're used to, like a loose-limbed 'Peanuts' strip. Instead of the four strips of four columns of the later books, there are three strips of two columns - each frame is much larger and seems to lunge at the reader. The positioning of speech bubbles is often clumsy; frequently, characters redundantly say what we can clearly see; the angle of compositions sometimes works against the action - all this can prevent a fluid reading. Tintin himself is a different beast - beefier, more aggressive, even high-handed with a splendidly cynical Snowy - he roughs up a Cheka agent, easily dispatches a vodka-guzzling bear, and trips up passers-by whenever the need arises.
Despite these flaws, 'Soviets' is a pacy and funny adventure. Two things Herge arrived with fully formed were: his ability to express speed within and across frames; and his fascination with gorgeous moving vehicles (motorcars, trains, planes, boats) stretching across the plate.