Review by Win Wiacek
This third collection of Osamu Tezuka’s super-surgeon operating outside the rules of civilised law contains fifteen excellent sagas. They blend science, adventure, the supernatural, comedy and even a little romance into searing incisions into the nature and practice of the healing arts.
Black Jack overcame horrendous childhood injuries, still carrying many scars within and without, travelling the globe, curing any who can pay his exorbitant prices. His only companion is Pinoko, a small girl he literally built from the remnants of a previous case. Unlicensed by any medical board, he holds himself to the highest ethical standards… his own.
We start with the heartwarming tragedy of ‘Disowned Son’, followed by the eerie thriller of an African region throwing up a disease causing victims to compress and lose body mass. The race to find a cure is breakneck since all doctors are also fatally ‘Shrinking’. There’s more globetrotting in ‘Dingoes’, as a baffling unknown disease ravages the Outback, but the moral is positively subdued compared to the bitter tale of malpractice, nepotism and outright villainy in ‘Your Mistake’. A spoiled doctor frames a nurse to cover his own negligence. As the doctor’s dad is the Chief of Medicine the nurse’s case seems hopeless. Paging Dr. Black Jack…
Some things nobody can fight. ‘The Robin and the Boy’ relates the miraculous consequences of a little boy’s kindness to a wounded bird. You will cry. No “ifs”, “buts” or “maybes”.
‘The Boy Who Came From the Sky’ has a defecting Soviet pilot land his stolen prototype super-fighter in Black Jack’s backyard. Also aboard is his young son, who urgently needs the doctor’s skills. Tense and gripping, this classy tale demonstrates just what Men of Honour will do for family.
‘Black Jack in Hospital’ is anything but predictable as a car smash puts the renegade surgeon on someone else’s operating table: a doctor who loathes everything the outcast represents. ‘A Woman’s Case’ begins with an emergency operation in a station waiting-room and ends with a revealing insight as to how the renegade healer calculates debts and obligations. ‘Two Dark Doctors’ introduces the equally outcast and reviled Doctor Kiriko, both cruelly similar and a polar opposite of Black Jack. Kiriko’s fees generally ensure a swift and pain-free release from all suffering.
Tezuka famously studied medicine without practicing, and ‘The Residents’ highlights the struggle between impatient young doctors and their hide-bound pompous self-aggrandizing superiors. It’s a sharp and unpredictable fable to surprise even the most jaded and experienced reader.
‘Recollections of a Spinster’ is a moody reminiscence about a budgeting and resources row at a big American hospital, whilst ‘Pinoko Loves You’ is a disturbing tale of a cheapskate client who prioritises cost over the patient – once the surgery’s completed. This harrowing yarn defines the unique relationship between Black Jack and his DIY “daughter.”
‘Tenacity’ is another heartbreaker, following the tragic Yamanobe’s struggles to pass the National Medical Exam. Cherishing everything Black Jack despises, the idealistic young man is determined to prove the outlaw’s way wrong. It precedes another tale of personal honour, ‘An Odd Relationship’ throwing a thief and a dedicated cop into Black Jack’s lap. They become ward-buddies, unaware each is the other’s nemesis. This volume closes with ‘Baby Blues’, a shocking tale of wayward schoolgirls and a newborn baby stuffed into a railway station locker.
Despite the scientific detail, and frighteningly accurate terminology and trappings, Black Jack isn’t medical fiction, but morality fables with medicine replacing magic featuring a Ronin with a Gladstone bag. These are superb ethical thought puzzles, beautifully told and stylishly illustrated, and great stories you’ll find impossible to forget.