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While this is not among my favorite Tintin books, Tintin and the Picaros is certainly an interesting, albeit different book. If you've never read any Tintin books before, I really wouldn't recommend that you start with this one. This episode is really a step above the rest: The themes, complexities, emotions and even the characters have been slightly altered. While the differences are not extremely striking, they certainly do not go with the general mood and feel of the series as a whole. However, as I mentioned, this one might be different but it still remains an enjoyable and entertaining read. This episode is the twenty-third and very last book in the series, and the reason why I'm rating this only four stars instead of five, is because I was expecting a better conclusion- or at least a better last episode to the whole series. I really didn't feel like the last book was the best one in which to alter the characters/mood of the story.
Tintin is doing yoga one morning when he hears that his friends Bianca Castafiore, her maid and pianist, along with Thomson and Thompson have been imprisoned by General Tapioca in San Theodoros. Soon, Tintin, Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus are accused and go to San Theodoros to clear their names. They have a very warm welcome and lead to a very comfortable hotel room- only to find that they are never able to leave the room without military supervision and that all their moves are being digitally recorded. Tintin and the other two now have to plan something to escape so that they can go and rescue their other friends before they are executed...
Like I said, this must be the most unique Tintin book: Fans of the series will at once note the striking differences- Tintin rides a motorcycle with a peace symbol on the helmet, he's wearing jeans and he doesn't seem too keen to start an adventure for once. Moreover, the Captain can now even give up alcohol- albeit unwillingly of course- thanks to Professor Calculus. These are just a couple of differences among numerous others. While they certainly did provide a fresher insight into the series, I wasn't overly fond of this book mainly because of the fact that these differences were not introduced gradually- it was more of a forceful, rather drastic process.
I would say that Tintin and the Picaros is also the most satirical Tintin book I ever read, at least to me. There are plenty of powerful messages about dictatorship, politics and poverty. I first read this book when I was ten and I didn't really get these messages at the time and was just enjoying the adventure instead. So I think that while this episode does include such thematic elements, it can still remain suitable for kids because of the adventurous and somewhat daringly funny part of it. The characters are as well-developed as ever but their differences put me off a bit. For once, I wasn't too enthralled by Tintin himself, but preferred Captain Haddock and the Professor Calculus, mainly because these two characters have not been so drastically transformed by Hergé.
Overall, four stars because it definitely is an interesting and enjoyable episode. But a star off because I don't feel like the last book is the appropriate one to introduce such drastic changes. Still, I will very highly recommend this to fans of Tintin in general, and especially to those who have read previous books before. However, not really recommended if you've never read one before- this might give you the wrong impression about the series as a whole.
~Thanks for reading~
Tintin and the Picaros is the twenty-third and final completed book in the Tintin series by Belgian writer and illustrator Hergé and was first published in 1976. The story finds Tintin and his friends Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus caught up in revolutionary jungle capers in the fictional country of San Theodoros and offers an interesting political subtext in addition to some equally interesting attempts to update and tinker with the character of Tintin. Tintin and the Picaros begins with Tintin and Captain Haddock relaxing at their inherited country home Marlinspike Hall - which they share with their friend Calculus and butler Nestor. Reading the newspaper, Haddock tells Tintin that flamboyant opera diva Bianca Castafiore - the comic bane of his life - is embarking on a long tour of South America and about to be received by General Tapioca, the military dictator of San Theodoros. We learn that the cruel and vain Tapioca toppled Tintin and Haddock's old friend General Alcazar to seize power and Tintin explains that Alcazar is now 'underground' in the jungle with partisans known as the 'Picaros' who have sworn to overthrow Tapioca.
The next day, Captain Haddock is rather amused to read in the paper that Castafiore has been accused of plotting to overthrow the regime of Tapioca - feeling sure that the story is far too silly to take very seriously. 'He's arrested Castafiore, silly fellow! He doesn't know what he's let himself in for!' However, Haddock is not laughing when Castafiore, her maid Irma, pianist Igor Wagner, and detectives Thomson and Thompson, are imprisoned by General Tapioca - who then claims that both he and Tintin are part of the general plot against him too. 'I'll give him a piece of my mind alright,' declares the furious Captain. 'The fancy-dress fascist!' However, when General Tapioca sends a very civil telegram inviting them all to San Theodoros to clear up matters, Haddock decides he might not be such a bad chap afterall and promptly sets off for South America with Professor Calculus in tow. Tintin however, unusually for him, declines to travel with them, believing the whole thing to be nothing more than an elaborate trap. 'I said I'm not going, Captain. You're quite free to fall into the trap they're trying to set for us, but as far as I'm concerned it's NIET!'
Tintin and the Picaros is an atypical but highly entertaining entry in the Tintin series with Hergé seeming to play around somewhat with the natural conventions of the series and bring Tintin more into the modern world. Tintin now wears bell bottoms (this is the seventies afterall) instead of his usual short trousers and socks and is seen on a motorbike at the beginning of the story with a CND badge very noticeable on his crash helmet. We also see Tintin practicing Yoga in the morning and, just for a change, it's Captain Haddock who sets off on the adventure initially with Tintin staying behind - though of course not for very long. There's a deeply cynical and slightly weary political subtext to Tintin and the Picaros too with Hergé implying that nothing will change for the poor, ordinary people in San Theodoros whether Tapioca and his henchmen or Alcazar and the rebels run affairs in the country.
Another interesting twist in Tintin and the Picaros is that Captain Haddock seems to have developed a strange distaste for his beloved whisky and can't seem to stomach a drop of it anymore. This mystery has an ingenious solution in the book that ties in with the general plot. We see that Tapioca is deliberately dropping copious amounts of Loch Lomand whisky into the jungle and General Alcazar's rebels have become a drunken rabble as a result. 'Tapioca succeeded too well with his parachute drops,' laments Alcazar to Tintin. 'Caramba! How can one mount a revolution with that bunch of drunks?' It's fun when Haddock and Calculus are guests of Tapioca, being spied on by surveillance equipment, but the story really kicks into gear when the action moves to the jungle and our heroes eventually team up with the rebels and their old comrade Alcazar to try and save Castafiore and their friends.
The book features some colourful and enjoyable drawings of huge stone pyramids and deep jungle villages and there are attempts by General Tapioca's army forces to bump off Tintin in the jungle with the use of a field-gun. Captain Haddock also has his usual comic battles with various animals - in this case monkeys, electric eels and a giant anaconda - and the drawings of Alcazar's drunken men setting fireworks off and randomly firing shots into the air at their jungle camp are amusingly done. Alcazar - for comic purposes - is also given a battleaxe wife called Peggy who is always wearing curlers and like a less attractive version of Olive from On the Buses. 'The general promised me a palace in Tapiocapolis!' nags Peggy. 'And all the general provides is a beat-up palliasse crawling with bugs and roaches!' Hergé has fun making the gruff stubble-chinned Alcazar a henpecked husband and gently sends up and subverts some of the general conventions of the revolutionary genre.
One great thing about Tintin and the Picaros too is that it reunites many of the characters we've come to know so well in the series as a whole for what would turn out to be the last time. In addition to Tintin, Captain Haddock, Calculus, Castafiore, the Thompsons and General Alcazar, there are also appearances by Cutts the butcher (who Haddock always comically telephones by accident - 'Thundering typhoons! Cutts again! Why do I always get him?'), Christopher and Marco from Paris-Flash Magazine, Nestor, and insurance salesman Jolyon Wagg - the other great bane of Captain Haddock's life. 'Jolyon Wagg, yes! Now look here, I just saw old Castanette on the telly and what do I hear? Blow me if she hasn't got her knick-knacks insured...' Wagg plays a pivotal role in the story and it's always nice to have all these characters brought together in one last adventure. Tintin and the Picaros is a lot of fun on the whole with a somewhat unique atmosphere as Hergé attempts to bring Tintin into the modern world just a little. The story builds to an exciting ending and there is - as ever - plenty of humour and enjoyably colourful and detailed art. Highly recommended for any Tintin fan.