The collected tales of the greatest unlicensed surgeon in the world continue in the fifth volume of Osamu Tezuka’s legendary Black Jack. The fourteen stories here take the eponymous doc from the halls of hospitals loaded with overblown, pompous directors to a cabin in the middle of a snowstorm, further proving that Black Jack is everywhere at once and ready to pull off any operation for the right price.
There are more standout stories in this single volume than most series have over their entire run, and the best of the best here work hard to strengthen Black Jack’s stacked mythos. Recurring characters come back for more, some with more ill intent than others, and through each tale, our heroic surgeon maintains his cool, ambiguously motivated demeanor.
One story that sheds some more light on his work, “Two at the Baths”, has Black Jack relaxing at Pitbottom hot springs, where the waters are typically occupied by ailing old folks on their last legs. His real order of business here, however, is a visit to the swordsmith that sharpens his scalpels with the utmost skill. It comes at a steep cost, but that’s where Black Jack’s borderline extortionary surgery bills come in handy. After all, did you really think someone like Jack would use ordinary instruments in his operations?
Pinoko, Black Jack’s patchwork young assistant, gets another tale of her own in “Pinoko’s Mystery.” An ominously worded letter—one at which Pinoko is quick to open and sneak a peek—creates a shadow of doubt as to her true origin and, more alarmingly, her true parents. Since this is Black Jack, it’s no surprise that this allegedly true story is almost as bizarre as the original that detailed Pinoko’s development from a lump of growth to a relatively normal little girl.
“Imprint”, “There Was a Valve!”, “99% Water”; there’s enough solid storytelling here to drone on about the individual high points all day. Even the less satisfying tales like “Wolf Girl” are enjoyable reads for the most part and, always a sign of great manga, are highly re-readable, as well. Only Tezuka can switch so suddenly from his cartoony characters to highly detailed surgical close-ups without the reader batting an eye.
Thanks to all of this, recommending Black Jack is simple. It’s one of the best comics currently in print, and Vertical’s handling of the series has been exceptional from the very beginning. The care in translation is evident throughout, and I urge anyone reading this that hasn’t had any exposure to Tezuka’s medical masterpiece to go out, pick up volume one, and see if it doesn’t ensnare you right away. It won’t be long before you’re all caught up, chomping at the bit for volume six.
Publisher: Vertical Inc.
Story & Art: Osamu Tezuka