Review by Win Wiacek
Equally able to speak to the hearts and minds of children and adults, Osamu Tezuka’s work ranges from the charming to the disturbing, even terrifying. In 1973 he turned his storyteller’s eye to the realm of medicine and created Burakku Jakku, a lone wolf surgeon living beyond society’s boundaries and rules. The a scarred, seemingly heartless mercenary works miracles for the right price yet is a deeply human wounded soul whose surgical wizardry emanates from behind icy walls of cool indifference and casual hostility.
One thing should always be remembered when reading these stories: despite all the scientific detail, all the frighteningly accurate terminology and trappings, Black Jack isn’t medical fiction, but an exploration of morality with medicine raised to the level of magic… or perhaps duelling. This is an epic of personal combats, a lone gunfighter battling hugely oppressive counter-forces (the Law, the System, himself) to win just one more victory: medicine as mythology, won by a Ronin with a Gladstone bag. Elements of rationalism, science-fiction, kitchen sink drama, spiritualism and even the supernatural appear in an episodic saga of Magical Realism to rival the works of Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez. Primarily, though, these are dramatic, highly addictive comics tales of heroism.
The translated, collected adventures continue in this sixth volume with the bittersweet ‘Downpour’ as Black Jack finds himself trapped on an impoverished island helping a dedicated young doctor fighting local government corruption and an epidemic. In ‘A Body Turned to Stone’ morality and ethics war with base humanity and smug, religious complacency resulting in an uncommon tragedy.
There’s a message of hope in ‘The Old Man and the Tree’ as a desperate octogenarian battles City Hall to save his oldest friend from demolition, whilst in ‘Twice Dead’ the super-surgeon is called upon to save a criminal suicide so that the state can execute him. He’s compelled to invent an impossible cure or be imprisoned for practising medicine without a license in ‘Lion-Face Disease’.
The medical profession is held up to harsh scrutiny in ‘Con Man, Aspiring’ when a poor man, at the behest of a scheming doctor, deliberately writes Black Jack a cheque he cannot honour, whilst a rich Texan faces some unpleasant home truths when the surgical Ronin attempts to cure his son of ‘Brachydactyly’. ‘Amidst Fire and Ashes’ sees Black Jack reunite a father and son when he performs delicate surgery under an erupting volcano (sample page). Satisfyingly, ‘Revenge’ has him outwit the united Medical Board of Japan when they put their wishes before the needs of a patient, and he takes on the Japanese railway system in the poignant yet heart-warming ‘Vibration’.
We enter the realm of pure science fiction as an animal experiment goes incredibly awry in ‘Nadare’ before seeing Black Jack outwit death whilst trapped in an elevator at the bottom of a collapsed building in ‘Three in a Box’. For the final tales in this collection he masquerades as one of his greatest rivals in ‘The Substitute’ and in ‘Terror Virus’ joins old foe the euthanising Dr. Kiriko when the government embroils them both in a sordid, clandestine scheme involving stolen bio-weapons. As usual Black Jack has the final word.
Thrilling, heart-warming, bitterly insightful and utterly addictive, these incredible stories of a medical wizard in a crass, mundane and hostile world will blow your mind and all your preconceptions of what storytelling can be.