Dr. Black Jack can come off as quite the shrewd son of a gun when it comes to money, and he’ll be the first to admit it. As he says in the story “Operation of the Spirit,” for instance, “I’ve even operated on a mummy for the right price.” What Black Jack says never represents the whole story, though, does it? That remains the case in volume 12, which finds the unlicensed surgeon altering faces, saving animals, and battling the quackiest of the quacks.
That last part of the list is one of the more intriguing aspects of this volume of Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack. In a couple of stories, and in completely different ways, Black Jack’s skills are called into an arena in which superstition reigns. “Save the Baby!” deals with a doctor who uses psychic energy—the kind of fraudulent act that involves mystical “instrument-free” invasive surgery—to operate on his patients. When an unborn baby’s life is at stake, the mystic pits his skills against Black Jack’s to settle who can truly save the life of the mother and her unfortunate child.
As tends to be the case, not everything is as it seems, and the clouds of Black Jack’s apparent shrewdness part to reveal the mix of knowledge and precision that make him the master he is. The theme of superstition continues in stories like “The Boy in the Sealed Room,” in which a young boy is believed to be possessed by an evil spirit, and “Operation of the Spirit,” which presents Black Jack with an incorporeal challenge.
Even when Black Jack goes borderline sci-fi on us, it all circles back to the various aspects of human nature that Tezuka enjoys exploring so frequently. One of the more touching stories— and this goes for the other 11 volumes Vertical has released so far—delves into Black Jack’s school days, and the profound way in which a fellow student affected his life.
There are many individual recurring themes or story types for which the audience can enjoy reading Black Jack. The beauty of these collections is that all or most of them tend to be present from volume to volume in one way or another and in varying quantities. Volume 12 just so happens to contain an extra dose or two of tragedy, but you’ll also find the other requisite ingredients elegantly sprinkled throughout (unless you’re a diehard Pinoko fan; not much of her in this one). Are we any closer to truly understanding who Black Jack is? I’d like to think only slightly, to be honest, and that’s one of Tezuka’s most stunning achievements with such a long-running series.
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
Story & Art: Osamu Tezuka
© 2010 by Tezuka Productions