1510: Napoleon

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"Mr. President, what if the unthinkable happens? What if the launch goes wrong, and Napoleon is not stranded on the moon?" "Have Safire write up a speech."
Title text: "Mr. President, what if the unthinkable happens? What if the launch goes wrong, and Napoleon is not stranded on the moon?" "Have Safire write up a speech."


Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the greatest military leaders in history, conquering most of Europe in the space of a decade. In 1814, after being forced to abdicate as Emperor of the French, he was exiled to the island of Elba. However, in February 1815 Napoleon escaped back to France, quickly raised an army, and overthrew the Bourbon Restoration monarchy for a period known as The Hundred Days. At the end of this period (actually lasting 111 days), Napoleon was defeated by British and Prussian forces at the Battle of Waterloo, and surrendered a month later. This time he was exiled to Saint Helena, an island much more remote than Elba—in fact, one of the most remote places on Earth.

In reality, Napoleon made no serious attempts to escape Saint Helena, although Admiral Thomas Cochrane reports in his memoirs that while on his way to lead the fledgling Chilean Navy in their revolution against Spain he intended to stop at St. Helena in order to free Napoleon and put him in charge of all the South American rebel armies. In the event, before he arrived at the island he learned that Napoleon had died there, six years after his surrender. However, this comic imagines a world in which Napoleon escaped once again, swimming back to Europe. Saint Helena is 2,000 km (1,200 mi.) from the Afro-Eurasian landmass, making such a swim rather implausible, especially considering the ball and chain around his ankle. And Napoleon is depicted fresh out of the water, suggesting that he did not simply swim to Africa and make his way back to Europe, but rather swam straight to Europe, a journey of roughly 6,100 km (3,800 mi.).

The comic implies that Napoleon proves impossible to confine, despite escalating attempts to send him to more remote locations and apply increasingly confining restraints (handcuffs, then adding a ball and chain on one ankle, then chaining the ball to both ankles, and finally adding an electronic legband). In addition to being able to swim impossible distances, he seems to also somehow escape imprisonment in the ice of Antarctica. He also seems to be immortal (or well-preserved by the ice of Antartica), remaining alive and apparently in great physical condition while nearly 200 years old. The final panel shows U.S. President John F. Kennedy's "We choose to go to the Moon" speech, but implies an alternate ending to the line "not because it is easy, but because it is hard." Rather, it appears that we choose to go to the Moon not because it is easy, but because it will be hard for Napoleon to return.

The title text is an apparent conversation between President Richard Nixon and an aide. Nixon is asked what we will do if we fail to maroon Napoleon on the Moon, and replies "Have Safire write up a speech." This is a reference to Nixon speechwriter William Safire, who wrote the draft speech "In Event of Moon Disaster", to have been delivered by Nixon should the Apollo 11 astronauts be stranded on the Moon. This comic thus proposes an inversion of the actual scenario—instead of Nixon delivering Safire's speech because someone's been stranded on the moon, in this comic he'd be delivering it if someone weren't stranded on the moon. "In Event of Moon Disaster" was also the topic of 1484: Apollo Speeches, published two months before this comic.


[Two Cueball-like soldiers with guns present Napoleon (recognizable by his Napoleon hat, aka a bicorne) to an officer sitting behind his desk. The officer is pointing at Napoleon who has a small chain on his hands.]
Soldier at the front: This is Napoleon. He tried to take over the world.
Officer Cueball: Exile him to Elba!
[Three Cueball-like soldiers with guns present Napoleon again to the same officer sitting behind his desk. The officer has one hand held in front of him with his palm up. This time Napoleon has a larger chain on his hands and a ball and chain on his right leg. His head and hat is battered from the battle.]
Soldier at the front: It's us again. Napoleon escaped from Elba and tried to conquer the world. Again.
Officer Cueball: Send him someplace truly remote, like Saint Helena.
Soldier at the front: Yes, sir.
[At the top of the panel is a text in a frame that breaks the panel's frame:]
Several Years Later...
[Four Cueball-like soldiers with guns (one partly outside the frame) stand behind Napoleon and one more soldier stands in front of him as they again present him to the same officer. The officer is now standing behind his desk, holding it with one hand while the other is pointing up in the air. This time Napoleon has a octopus on his head, is dripping wet, still has the larger chain on his hands and the ball and chain on his right leg. Furthermore his legs are shackled. There are pools of water on the floor.]
Soldier at the front: Well, he swam back.
Officer Cueball: We must mount an expedition to the South Pole, where we will encase Napoleon in the Antarctic ice!"
[At the top of the panel is a text in a frame that breaks the panel's frame:]
A century later...
[President Kennedy is giving a speech standing on a podium behind a lectern, while Napoleon is standing behind him with the same restraining devices as before. Napoleon now has icicles dangling from his hat and a small piece of ice on his right leg around the knee.]
President Kennedy: We choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy...

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Well, this explains a lot. Why Obama refuses to return to the Moon and wants to go for an asteroid...Jkotek (talk) 07:33, 10 April 2015 (UTC)

That would make an awesome addition to the story line. I wish Randall included that extra panel. 08:21, 10 April 2015 (UTC)BK201
So... the reason he wants to go for an asteroid is that we need the capability to send the Moon-escaped Napoleon there! 09:42, 10 April 2015 (UTC)

Haha this is now one of my favorite xkcd comics 08:16, 10 April 2015 (UTC)

Which goes to show that tastes can be different - I think this comic is just silly, silly, silly. --RenniePet (talk) 13:28, 11 April 2015 (UTC)

IMHO the explanation somewhat misses the crucial point: A parody of the villain type who always comes back in comic books. (Don't force me to add a TVTropes link :-) 09:22, 10 April 2015 (UTC)

Another question - Why the Antarctic? Something evil resting under deep ice is concept used for example in movie(s) The Thing ([[1]], [[2]], [[3]] - chose your favorite ;-) or game Prisoner of Ice [[4]].Jkotek (talk) 13:59, 10 April 2015 (UTC)

Don't forget Alien vs. Predator! 09:21, 11 April 2015 (UTC)

In 2115, Napoleon escapes from the moon and almost conquers the United Nations of Earth before being defeated. He is then sent into the Sun, where he stays for the next thousand years.... But in the 32nd century, humanity begins extracting material from the Sun to build a Dyson Sphere, and this allows Napoleon to escape and wreak havoc once more. At this point, the Star People just give up and go "WTF?!". Jake (talk) 16:37, 10 April 2015 (UTC)

http://what-if.xkcd.com/imgs/a/124/kennedy.png 18:20, 10 April 2015 (UTC)

I was so sure that "A century later" meant this was a setup for an "Avatar-the last airbnder" joke. 12:27, 11 April 2015 (UTC)

In Flanders, the comic series De Kiekeboes is very popular. Though sadly unknown abroad (unlike other Belgian comic series like Tintin or The Smurfs). As a reader of the series, I immediately noticed the striking similarity with the 1989 album Een koud kunstje. In that album, the protagonist, Marcel Kiekeboe, bumps into the Bonaparte society. Their aim is to free Napoleon form the Antarctic ice, where he has been frozen until science could being him back to life. Nobody knew that apart from the Bonaparte society. The comic series is set up mostly as a sitcom, so the humor is hard to explain, and even harder to translate. However, the fact that Napoleon is buried in the ice strikes me. First, I thought it was a well known comply theory (like Elvis being still alive), However, I can't find other references of Napoleon on Antarctica. Any thoughts about this are much appreciated. -- 21:46, 11 April 2015 (UTC)

This reminds me of the comment I made about people that deny the moon landing, we need another moon landing to take one of them along...then leave them there! ^_- (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Anybody else think that him escaping the antarctic could very likely be an allusion to global warming? Reywas (talk) 21:23, 6 June 2016 (UTC)

More likely just a very, very, very hard place to escape fromDontknow (talk) 22:22, 8 March 2017 (UTC)

BREAKING: Satellite footage of moon shows Napoleon building rocket; world leaders concerned. 19:20, 10 May 2019 (UTC)