“For us humans to crave control over life and death is sheer arrogance, don’t you think?” – Jotaro Honma
Ah, how exciting! The oft-emulated doctor for hire series which helped make Tezuka’s name finally makes its way to my apartment. And while the entire conceit isn’t quite there in this first volume, Tezuka remains as inventive as ever.
Collected as a series of episodic chapters, we’re introduced to Dr. Black Jack in flash. He’s Golgo, or James Bond, but with a scalpel. And though the love/hate relationship he shares with attention and affection may seem tritely predictable today, the subject matter of the stories is endlessly fascinating.
Tezuka was, himself, a doctor. And a real medical knowledge is fused with an adventurous sense of storytelling to create a compellingly dark character who could channel some of that post-war angst and fuse it with the wonders or life and rebirth. In fact, owing to the occasional mention of radiation poisoning (or polio) there’s a real dialogue at work about the nature of disability and life outside traditional norms. There’s also some hokey faux-romantic stuff… but it’s not all bad. Best is when Tezuka effortlessly transports us back in time to work his storytelling wizardry, fusing bits and pieces (much like Koike and Kojima) to fashion a pretty rewarding narrative.
Elsewhere, there’s plenty of ethical quandry. Not to mention the sketchy computer-gone-wrong plot of “U-18 Knew”. In that regard, Black Jack holds up so well because it pre-dates an awful lot of plot-devices we might see today. And on some of the weirder ones (“The Face Sore” or “The First Storm of Spring”) he manages to at once take medicine deadly serious and slip in echoes of the paranormal or supernatural. The more grounded tales, a mix of intrigue and vague morals, often remind us of Tezuka the humanist – prizing virtues like Love, Empathy, and Humility while exploring the brutally clinical world of medicine.
Black Jack is fairly episodic at this point, and with just the vaguest hints about his past (a young lover he operated on, an accident he was in as a child that left him nearly destroyed, the curious influence of Dr. Honma) but the bones are all there for a terrific series. Weird, kooky, and an adept mix of serious and fun. Tezuka can’t help but amaze.