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Black Jack
  • Translated Manga Pick of the Month

    Osamu Tezuka, 'God of Manga', more than inspired modern manga as we know it; at times he almost seemed to want to write all possible genres of manga, from the science fiction of ASTRO BOY to the history of ADOLF to the dark medical drama of BLACK JACK. A doctor with a long Dracula cape, an anime shock of black hair, and a huge scar running down his face, Black Jack is an mercenary outlaw from the medical profession, performing miracles with his assistant Pinoko, who is no ordinary four-year-old girl. One of Japan's most classic 'cult' characters, BLACK JACK comes to the U.S. for the first time in Manga Vizion this September. (The six-volume OAV series from Central Park Media is also well worth checking out.)

    Drawn in the mid-'70s, BLACK JACK reflects the underground comics of that era, depicting (in the words of translator Yuji Oniki) "a cruel universe rife with greed, hypocrisy and corruption." Modern science, which inspired Tezuka's plots (though it never put a damper on his stories of brain transplants and psychic powers), becomes a complicated and perilous world, erupting in automobile accidents, bomb shelters, and plane crashes. Visually, Tezuka recalls a black-and-white world of '40s noir, with long shadows and sinister faces. But Tezuka never denies his cartoonist heritage, and his use of comic exaggeration and simple faces lighten -- and knock askew -- what might otherwise be merely bleak. The two sides of BLACK JACK are expressed most simply in the artwork; Tezuka's drawings of surgery, straight out of a medical textbook or a dictionary of teratology, blend both delicately and horrifically with the clean, 'cartoony' characters.

    Morbid and contradictory as it is, BLACK JACK is completely grim. Its one-shot stories are not medical procedurals, but express Tezuka's knowledge of human love, grief and folly -- and often something thrown in for the younger readers. Though Black Jack dishes out death when necessary, firing guns and flinging scalpels in self-defense, his identity as a doctor makes him different from aggressive martial artists and vengeful superheroes (let alone REX MORGAN M.D.). The genius behind Black Jack has still not been copied, twenty years after the fact: "A hero whose skill is saving lives, not killing? Who'll buy that?"

    Jason Thompson
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    Black Jack ©Tezuka Productions 1993
    ©1997 Viz Communications, Inc.