They call him the godfather of manga, and the more of Osamu Tezuka’s work that Vertical puts out, the more you can understand why.
Black Jack is an epic 17-volume series that draws heavily on Tezuka’s surgical knowledge – he trained as a doctor before embarking on his career as a manga maestro. Black Jack is a renegade doctor, practising without a licence and outside the remit of the healthcare industry. Despite this he has an unsurpassed reputation for curing the uncurable and fixing damaged humans that most doctors have written off. However, his prices are through the roof, earning him a reputation as a cold and callous capitalist, who’ll only operate on the rich or famous.
At least, that’s how Tezuka builds him up in the first couple of chapters. He then spends the rest of this first book breaking this image down again. We learn more of Jack’s past and see his self-perpetuating bravado shift to one side, especially when he’s presented with cases close to his heart or of philanthropic value to him. His character is dissected – nothing is as straightforward as it first seems with Jack – as Tezuka slowly peels back the layers of his onion-skin personality.
While this engaging character study is in progress, Tezuka uses Jack’s surgical skill to weave magical, self-contained chapters of medical drama. Jack conjures iatric wizardry, from ridding a man of a talking growth (complete with its own unpleasant personality), to transplanting new eyes into the sockets of a blind girl (and then solving the mystery of the ghost she keeps seeing). His particular speciality is in sewing the limbs of recently deceased donors onto amputees.
Despite originating in 1973, there’s little here to have dated. We can’t really talk about the accuracy of the medical side and real surgeons may (or may not) take issue, but it’s the only element that might take away from the book’s overall impression of timelessness.
Tezuka’s art is typical of his style. His characters range from his most normal looking (think MW or Ode to Kirihito) through to the heavily caricatured and cute. There’s little of the exquisite location detail we’ve come to love, but urban hospital drama has little call for such scene setting.
Overall it’s a great start to another ground-breaking series from the manga master. This is asking for a big investment of time and money if you’re out to collect the set, but a good Tezuka series is almost certainly worth it, and this is shaping up to be just that.