Black Jack 17

August 13, 2012

Osamu Tezuka – Vertical – 2011 – 17 volumes

It’s happened! The last volume of Black Jack! Actually, I’m covering this way late, as this came out in December. But that doesn’t make it any less sad.

The most interesting story to me in this volume was The Phoenix, which involved the titular character from one of Tezuka’s other major works. Longevity is the theme here, as Black Jack is called out to a very remote area to save an allegedly 200-year-old man. The woman who hires him tricks him into killing the Phoenix for its blood, which he could use to save any patient. She drives him away and goes to collect the blood herself, only to be bitten by poisonous snakes. Turns out the “Phoenix” glows due to some sort of luminescent bacteria.

So, this was another one of those stories that had me scratching my head. The 200-year-old man didn’t actually drink the blood of the phoenix, he just had the tenacity to stay alive just in case he ever could. Also, getting the blood in order to save all his patients strikes me as an incredibly out-of-character motive for Black Jack. And the phoenix… wasn’t really a phoenix? Except the ending is confusing, so I’m not sure if it’s meant to be that Black Jack is trying to rationalize it with science, and it really is a phoenix? It’s drawn like the Phoenix, and the ending is strangely rushed (it’s not even clear if he’s saving the woman from the snakebites). So… I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to be taking away here. But I liked it anyway.

Another story that had me puzzled was one where a boy and his horse get hit by a car, and Black Jack is hired to save the boy. The boy’s brain can’t be saved, so Black Jack surgically implants the brain of the horse in his body. Yeah. Then the boy/horse seeks vengeance against his murderers. And is good with horses, despite not being able to read or speak.

This raises the specter of the stories that are too morally reprehensible to republish. I don’t have a problem with this sort of thing in the context of a comic, especially one as off-the-wall as Black Jack (I’d go so far as to say I encourage this sort of thing, because it’s the type of absolutely crazy story I like to read since it is so divorced from reality). Nobody’s putting a horse brain in the body of a little boy in real life. But it seems like if you were the type to take offense to something, this would be it. I’ve read some of the “sealed” stories in the Black Jack hardcovers published in English, and I’m still not clear as to what line those cross that others do not. I suppose it’s just a matter of taste.

Morally and/or generally ambiguous stories inside, there was a lot of other stuff to like here. Another good one starred Dr. Tenma, aka the creator of Astro Boy elsewhere. He’s running for director of a prestigious hospital, and neglecting his poor daughter Uran (elsewhere, Astro Boy’s sister) in the process. He takes out a loan from Black Jack at the risk of being blacklisted at the hospital for associating with an unlicensed surgeon. When an accident happens to Uran, he throws his chances of being elected away to hire Black Jack to save Uran. The story ends with some very un-Tenma like panels of the dour man savoring life. Then again, we know that Tenma loves his children (alive), if nothing else.

Other strange ones include a story where Black Jack turns a woman into a bird, one where the woman with the teratoid cystoma that turned into Pinoko came back (an appropriate way to end the series, I think), a story where Black Jack tries to have Pinoko adopted into a loving family, and a strange one where Pinoko “holds down the fort” during a typhoon while Black Jack performs a thankless operation elsewhere.

Basically, lots of the same stuff I’ve loved about it all along, including lots of cameos from Tezuka’s regular cast of characters. I’ve said plenty good about this series over the years, but basically, it really is worth reading. The highly unusual short stories sometimes make you think (although sometimes that’s just to find reason), they sometimes teach you things, and they are always completely weird thrillers the likes of which you will not find in any other comic. Seriously, if you have any interest at all in the subject matter, or even really good comics, it’s worth picking up.

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