Thursday, March 12, 2009

Review: Black Jack Vol. 3

Black Jack volume 3 (of 18), by Osamu Tezuka, 2009, Vertical, 318 pages, $16.95

I reviewed volumes 1 and 2 of this series here. Since I've already explained the premise of the series and stated some general thoughts about the writing and art, I'm going to delve into my favorite story in this volume and talk about why I think it is simultaneously endearing and completely bonkers, just like all of the others.

(SPOILERS) The story, called "The Boy Who Came from the Sky," opens with the dramatic landing of a harrier-type military jet outside of Dr. Black Jack's cliffside residence. The pilot and his wife have defected from their country to seek the doctor's help in saving the life of their son, who has Eisenmenger's Syndrome, a heart defect that can destroy the blood vessels of the lungs. Black Jack explains how, if only he had been able to operate on the boy a year earlier, he might have been able to save him, but now the condition is incurable. Distressed, Black Jack spends the night racking his brain until he hits upon the idea of surgically connecting the boy to his mother so that the blood from her lungs will flow into his heart. The mother will carry her son on her back until they can obtain a healthy set of lungs for the boy. The surgery is successful, but Black Jack rejects the father's money because he knows that the family will need it to survive as fugitives, offering instead to take the expensive jet as payment. The father tells Black Jack that he must account for his actions as an officer, asks Black Jack to say "farewell" to his wife and son for him, and blows up the plane (and himself with it). The mother and child sleep peacefully as the wreckage burns.

By the way, that happens in eighteen pages. Like all of the stories in the book, Tezuka packs a ton into it, zig-zagging between Black Jack's melodramatic outbursts of frustration, technical cutaway diagrams of the boy's heart condition, and tender images of the parents cuddling their dying son. When I called these stories bonkers, it's partly because of the fantastical problems and cures that Tezuka conjures up, and partly because they careen between emotional highs and lows within the space of a few panels. I don't think many creators could successfully pull off these feats of storytelling, but Tezuka does it so effortlessly that the reader runs right along through the story without a second thought.

And I can only consider Tezuka's storytelling mastery in hindsight, because while reading I am completely enthralled by the drama and excitement, and the compelling character of Black Jack, a man who professes to care only about money but who is deeply concerned for the well-being of his patients.

The art, of course, always helps to get the blood flowing with its dynamism and power, but my favorite images from this particular story are relatively quiet:

(click to enlarge -- read right to left)

I thought that those two panels of the mother and her son bonded together are breathtaking. They capture everything that a parent will do for her child and the love between them. Every so often Tezuka creates panels like these, ones that are simple, beautiful, and profound.

I hope I've gotten you interested in the book with my description of this one story -- there are fourteen others in the volume, by the way, and each one terrific -- but here's one more page. This is from "Two Dark Doctors," in which Black Jack faces off against his nemesis:

(click to enlarge -- read right to left)

Need more? You can see a preview of this book here and buy it from Amazon here: Black Jack, Volume 3

Disclaimer: This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.


  1. Great review - I've bought all 3 and generally buy all Tezuka. I also love these stories...

  2. Thanks! Tezuka is good stuff.