Creator: Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Viz
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Drama
RRP: $15.95
Black Jack v2: Two-Fisted Surgeon
Reviewed by Michael Aronson

I’ve got some bad news: if you’re the least bit interested in Black Jack, you’ll be extremely lucky to ever come across any of the volumes – and in the rare case you locate one online, prepare to pay a hefty premium. These books are rare, due to being some of Viz’s earlier releases (original printings of Battle Angel Alita and others fetched for the same price).

But chances are that if you know Tezuka, you’ve at least heard of Black Jack, maverick doctor extraordinaire. Unlike the Tezuka series currently debuting in the US, like Phoenix or Buddha, Black Jack is episodic. Rather than 400 pages per volume of a multi-volume saga, each tale in Black Jack is 22 pages long on average. The great news is that Tezuka can still deliver when tied to a shorter format, but as such the stories tend to be flakier and more melodramatic.

Biggest gripe out of the way first: I can’t stand Pinoco, Black Jack’s “wife.” She’s a 19-year-old girl surgically implanted in the body of an infant (hey, it’s fiction) whose origin probably lies in the first volume. Her speech is improper and though her feelings are mature, their expression is appropriately infantile. She’s really the worst kind of comic relief, and her solo story is the lowest point of the volume.

But the Pinoco-free Black Jack stories are typically strong. Black Jack’s a world-renowned surgeon who is paid enormous sums of money upfront for his expertise. His emotional indifference and mercenary fees make him extremely likable – after all, the world’s best surgeon isn’t going to cater to just any patient. His solutions to situations are often inspired, from remaining absolutely focused during a hostage crisis to improvising transplant procedures on the spot to even operating alone on himself. The chapter entitled Dingoes is one of the highlights of the story, and bears some curious similarities to Tezuka’s earlier opus, Ode to Kirihito.

Despite being created after the Phoenix series took off, Black Jack is surprisingly rough around the edges. However, it’s also Tezuka’s longest work ever – which means it would have to surpass the 3000+ pages of his Phoenix saga. We can only hope once Viz finishes releasing Phoenix later this year that they consider a new printing of Black Jack.

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29 October 2008
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