Tintin and the Picaros is a late entry in the series and as such has the advantage of Tintin's extensive supporting cast at this point. Tintin returns to Marlinspike Hall after some errand only to learn that Bianca Castafiore has embarked on a tour though South America. Her tour is a triumph until she gets arrested for conspiracy to overthrow the government in the imaginary country of San Theodoros- a country that Tintin and Haddock are somewhat familiar with due to their association with General Alcazar, who has been overthrown.In fact it is this association that soon leads to them being named as co- conspirators in the plot!
Haddock of course takes exception to being named in a plot and soon engages in a war of words through the media with General Tapioca, the despotic new ruler of San Theodoros. This soon leads to Haddock and Tintin being invited to the country to have talks and clear the air, and Haddock accepts against Tintin's better judgment. The usual nonsense ensues as soon as they arrive with double crosses and a rebellion led by their friend Alcazar- not to mention that the general only has thirty men with him and they spend most of their time drunk. And speaking of drunk, why is Haddock's whisky suddenly so terrible?
This was fun in the usual breakneck way- there are perhaps a convenient coincidence or two that moves things along, but this is a strong entry in the series and a great way to spend some time. The art is top notch as usual, the characterizations are spot on and my only complaint is we didn't get more face time with Castafiore and her retinue- I enjoyed the chaos of her visit so much in The Castafiore Emerald that now anytime her and her assistant Irma show up I expect the worst! Some highlights for me were the tourist bus showing up in the rebel camp and several clueless tourists looking for a souvenir shop, as well as Alcazar and Tapioca commiserating over how the young have no appreciation for the traditions of coups.
As I mentioned above the full supporting cast is here, with Thompson and Thomson and even a certain dapper insurance salesman showing up, but most of them don't have a lot to do. Haddock and Tintin take center stage, and Calculus is in fine form here too, with his own little contributions to the plot. If there are any serious complaints it might be that the depiction of San Theodoros and its people comes across as stereotypical and perhaps rather crude by modern standards- there's no getting around that as these were written in a different time- but all I can say is everyone gets poked fun at or is fair game in a Tintin story, so it's up to each person if this is offensive or not. I also like the way Carnival was used in the story to move things along- a nice touch.
One of the better Tintin stories I think, all the way around, and as with many of the volumes it can be read as a standalone- knowing the history certainly helps due to the supporting cast- but I've always read these out of order and it's no big deal.