Review by Win Wiacek
Unfortunately, for many modern readers the highly stylised semi-comical “cartoonish” illustration that Osamu Tezuka chose to work in has proved a conceptual hindrance, not only for these astounding adventures in medical meta-fiction, but for many other of his incredible stories of heroism and fantasy. However, these carefully crafted black and white pages use a simple symbology and deft design to tell tales that only the most sophisticated consumer can fully appreciate: not because they’re difficult or obscure, but because they hit home and hit hard every time. The pictures may be soft, seductive and welcoming but the content – and intent – are as hard and uncompromising as a surgeon’s scalpel.
Black Jack is at once a lone wolf hero, troubled genius, passionate outsider and amoral humanitarian combining the indomitable will of Doc Savage with the intellect of Sherlock Holmes and ambivalent, intuitive drive of Dr. Gregory House. Hideously scarred as result of extensive childhood surgery the unlicensed mercenary medic endures public condemnation and professional scorn, experiencing every genre of storytelling as he continually confronts the cutting edges of medicine.
Volume 4 begins with ‘False Image’ wherein an uncharacteristic visit to a school reunion leads to shocking revelations about Black Jack’s most beloved childhood inspiration, whilst in ‘The Scream’ he teaches a cruel lesson to a wilful schoolgirl whose throat surgery means she must utter no sounds for a year. Next is a touching and fanciful romance wherein the medical maverick stumbles across a severely wounded bandit in a wind-blown shanty and plays grisly cupid for the ‘Drifter in a Ghost Town’, and then saves his assistant’s newest friend from a unique birth defect in the charming mystery ‘Pinoko Love Story’.
A particularly vicious and spectacular crime leads to a grim mission of mercy in ‘The Sewer Way’, and an old friend returns in a new light when a two-fisted sailor demands outrageous skin surgery in the heart wrenching ‘The Seas Smell of Romance’. A rather jolly cat and mouse duel between a pickpocket and a cop turns deadly serious and nauseatingly nasty when the Yakuza get involved in the tale of ‘Tetsu of the Yamanote Line’.
‘Titles’ drops Black Jack into an international incident when a visiting Emperor demands to observe Japan’s most persona non grata doctor in action, and won’t be refused. A profound tragedy of far more humble folk drives the desperate father in ‘Lost and Found’. He scrapes together every penny he can to pay Black Jack for his wife’s operation – only to lose it all in the city’s accumulated garbage. The “accommodation” they come to will shock you.
In ‘Burned Doll’ an exploding car and a brutally burned little boy drive a loving Yakuza father to incredible sacrifices in a bitter parable of pride and appearance, while paternal disappointment and childhood dreams taint the tragic lives of an entire family in ‘The Heart of a Giant’. There’s breathtaking excitement in ‘Gas’ when the outlaw doctor races against time to retrieve a lethal cyanide capsule from Pinoko’s stomach before it dissolves. Unbelievably, this little gem is as funny as it thrilling!
The overweening pride of top doctors is exposed in ‘From Afar’ as the famed Dr. Bandai ignores true need to pursue celebrity cases. For Black Jack, puncturing such pride is more valuable than money, and this book ends with another blend of hilarity and tearful tragedy as Pinoko adopts a revolting and unwelcome ‘Thieving Dog’.
Thrilling, heartwarming, bitterly insightful and utterly addictive, these incredible stories of a medical wizard in a crass, mundane world will blow your mind and all your preconceptions of what storytelling can be.