Is Black Jack a hero, a sly opportunist, or just a straight up dick? After 13 volumes of his varied exploits the answer remains murky, with a slight lean toward “all of the above.” Part of Black Jack’s very nature is the fact that his very nature is hard to peg, and that’s what makes Osamu Tezuka’s medical serial a consistently captivating read.
Whether it’s the manner in which they’ve been grouped, or the simple matter of Tezuka running with certain ideas from one period of the series to the next, volume 13 contains a heaping pile of cosmetic conundrums. Despite general similarities in these premises, the reasoning behind the central characters’ decision is, naturally, what makes them interesting in their own ways. “Death of an Actress” follows former cinematic idol Marilyn Swanson as she copes with the only thing that could make her star fade: old age. With the opportunity for one final role slipping through her fingers as a result, she takes drastic measures and implores the good doctor to make her look just like she did in her prime. What are the odds of this going well?
On the flip side is “Timid Cyrano.” Shirano is an average-looking man with his eyes on the gorgeous, but very ill, Jun. Unfortunately, her wellness becomes intertwined with her infatuation with a nearby neighbor, who doesn’t exactly share her feelings but leads her on regardless. When this loathsome lothario passes away unexpectedly, Shirano can’t bear to break the news to the ailing Jun. Thus he does what anyone in his shoes would do: he hires Black Jack to perform facial reconstruction surgery that will make him the spitting image of the man Jun so fancies.
When Black Jack isn’t literally rearranging faces, he’s performing surgery on mummies and aliens. Yes, mummies and aliens; not at the same time, but still, that’s pretty impressive for a series coated in meticulous medical detail. At this point accepting stories like “The Cursed Operation” and “A Challenge of the Third Kind” isn’t a tall order at all. “Of course he needs to operate on the mummy to sooth its rage,” you’ll passively mutter. “How else will this ancient curse be put to rest?”
These are just further arguments for the diversity of the series’ storytelling, and some of the many reasons that after over a dozen volumes and dozens upon dozens of stories, Black Jack still hasn’t gotten old yet. I usually try to spread out my reading of each volume over the course of a few days out of fear that this spell will eventually be broken, but it hasn’t happened yet. Bring on the rest, Vertical.
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
Story & Art: Osamu Tezuka
© 2011 by Tezuka Productions