The timing of this book could not be more, well, timely. I spent most of last week, from the Sunday of the 7th through the following Sunday, nursemaiding my missus and her broken ankle. Despite that, she was determined to make as much use as possible of her three remaining limbs even if she ended up breaking them, too. Her nerve (the psychic kind) and determination were enough at one point to make me blurt out: “Black Jack would have loved you as a patient.”
I had to explain that one to her.
Some of you in the back of the class already know this, I’m sure. I shall repeat myself, as it bears repeating. What Black Jack loves more than almost anything else (save maybe suitcases fulla yen bills) is a patient who meets him halfway — someone whose will to live and determination to be healed is as strong as his own will to save their sorry ass. It’s something common to many people I’ve known who stand out so far in their field or are so far at the top of their respective game that they don’t feel like there’s anyone else around. When you have someone, anyone sharing your slice of stratosphere, however fleetingly, you feel that much less like an aberration and a … well, a freak.
You can see, then, why some part of me let out this morbid little laugh when installment #10 of Black Jack hit my doorstep. What timing, I thought. What a great way to put into perspective all that craziness with hospitals and emergency room visits (plural) and you-name-it. And so I threw myself on the easy chair and peeled back the covers, and now here I am mere hours later to tell you this is the volume of this series we have been waiting for. Not just because the stories in it are A-game, primo Tezuka, but because the vault door that seals off Black Jack’s past has at last inched open that much further.
We knew a few things. We knew his mother was horribly injured in the same accident that scarred him for life. We know his father had abandoned both of them for another woman when he went overseas one year, and the wound left in Black Jack’s heart has never completely closed over because of it. You can see how those experiences helped shape the code he lives by today: from what he’s seen, most people live to stab each other in the back. Expect nothing less from them until they prove otherwise.
And then one fine day there comes a phone call. A call from his father. It has to be him, since he’s ostensibly the only person in the world who would call Black Jack by his real first name. The doc wants nothing to do with him at first, but he’s offering piles of money and has actual work for him: restore the face of his disfigured wife. The wife, by the way, is not Black Jack’s mother: that’s the woman Dad ran off with all those years ago. The good doctor could very well choose to leave her even more disfigured, but he opts for another, subtler form of revenge — one that only his father could interpret as revenge in the first place.
Not long after this, father and son are thrown together once more. This time, Dad’s on his deathbed, and his wife summons Black Jack to Macao for the reading of the will. Jack’s half-sister wants nothing to do with this scarred renegade, even if he did have a hand in patching Mom back together. Sis does her damndest to cut Jack out of his share — but this is Black Jack she’s dealing with, who has more tenacity than a whole kennel full of pit bulls. And the conclusion to this story, while it does borrow from a few other previous plotlines throughout the series (namely, that old “harvest the dead to save the living” ploy), has more poetic justice than the Bill of Rights rendered in iambic pentameter.
Those stories alone would make the book worth its cover price, American or Canadian. But the rest of what’s packed between the Peter Mendelsund-designed covers of this volume is more than worth it. One major story early on, “Revenge is My Life”, mixes a remarkable amount of plot and storytelling complexity — I’ve seen some people try and spin out a story of this density into a whole volume, and come up with less than Tezuka does here in thirty-something pages. When a woman is almost killed by a mistakenly-planted bomb, Black Jack is tasked with the job of putting her back together — and with tapping into her own latent thirst for revenge to motivate her to heal herself. (There, I finally tied all this back in to my introduction. About time.) More complicated is the question of who she should be taking revenge against, and in what form — like, for instance, just living well.
Some other questions are answered along the way, too. Who built Black Jack’s house, and why does he blanch so fiercely at fixing it up? Why did Black Jack cheat one of his best-paying clients, and steal a load of diamonds, quite literally out from under the man’s nose (and a few other body parts, too)? And many more, the answers to which you’ll only find in the book itself, because if there’s one thing I hate it’s ruining a perfectly good set of surprises.
The first volume of Black Jack is a must. That, I hope, goes without saying. But if you want to pair it up with any other volume from the series so far, make it this one — for both the big-picture story and the individual episodes.