Review by Win Wiacek
Osamu Tezuka’s outlaw super-surgeon Black Jack is a passionate outsider and amoral humanitarian combining indomitable will, ruthless intellect and intuitive drive. He’s a mercenary medic shrugging off public condemnation and professional scorn as he smashes every barrier at the cutting edge of medicine.
This collection opens with a breathtaking chase as a broken instrument shard goes astray in a patient’s bloodstream, roaring through arteries to a lethal rendezvous with the heart, as Black Jack is stretched to his utmost in ‘Needle’. ‘Granny’ is a grim depiction of familial ingratitude and the force of obligations with Black Jack reduced to a subsidiary role, whilst ‘The Ballad of the Killer Whale’ presents a bleak peek into the maverick’s early life, mixing dark reality with fairytale delights.
A moment of kindness between strangers and a catastrophic gas explosion leads him into a fragile truce with the cop who arrested him for practicing without a licence in ‘To Each his Own’, but his inner misanthrope resurfaces when Black Jack is trapped in a super-skyscraper’s ‘Emergency Shelter’ with haughty financiers and social leaders. Soon it’s like Lord of the Flies in there. ‘Dirtjacked’ finds him trapped with a busload of kids in a collapsed tunnel and forced to make an impossible decision. What’s truly terrifying is the apparent ease with which makes it.
‘Where art Thou, Friend?’ is a lesson in racism and brotherhood revealing more of the solitary surgeon’s past. When young Kuro’o suffered a horrendous accident, his salvation necessitated vast reconstructive surgery and extreme skin-grafts. The scarred, patchwork boy was mercilessly abused by classmates for years. Esteemed surgeon Dr. Honma needed donated grafts, but only ostracised “mixed blood” boy Takashi was willing to endure the pain and loss of perfect skin. Now Kuro’o/Black Jack discovers what became of the outcast who changed his life.
‘Kidnapping’ finds the outlaw operating on the President of a third world republic when little Pinoko is snatched by terrorists who demand that he stops or else. As a Samurai of Surgery his code won’t allow him to comply with their orders; can there possibly be a third alternative?
‘Assembly Line Care’ targets efficiency-driven medical care in a facility operating on absolute time-and-motion principles. Yet Fukuroku Hospital is in a profits down-spiral. Their solution is to declare war on Black Jack, until the Director’s daughter is in an accident. Does he have the courage of his conveyor-belt convictions or will he come crawling?
When a dedicated young salary-man clears Black Jack of trumped-up charges in ‘Helping Each Other’ the renegade acknowledges an eternal debt that comes when the honest man’s bosses frame him for embezzlement, ordering him to commit suicide to save the company’s “Face.” His refusal is unacceptable to the directors until Black Jack intervenes.
‘Stradivarius’ finds crash survivors in the Arctic, among them the world’s greatest violinist and an outlaw surgeon. In a place where frostbite takes fingers in an instant why would anybody risk their talents and lives hunting for a lost violin? This obsessive tale is followed by bittersweet comedy ‘Pinoko’s Challenge’ wherein the semi-artificial lass risks dignity and life for a proper education.
Terrorists capture a medical centre, forcing ‘Hospital Jack’ to complete a complex operation without power or light. The catalogue of critical cases concludes with the introduction of ‘The Blind Acupuncturist,’ whose way of life revolts mercenary rationalist Black Jack. That doesn’t prevent him from learning a hard lesson about arrogance and rash judgement, however.
Utterly absorbing: take one and see how you are in the morning.