Manga Review: Black Jack 2

Manga Review: Black Jack 2 by Osamu Tezuka

Before Osamu Tezuka became a full-time manga creator, he was  a medical doctor.  He drew upon this training and experiences with Japan’s medical establishment for his work on Black Jack starting in the 1970s.

Black Jack 2

Black Jack (birth name Kuro’o Hazama) is a brilliant physician and surgeon who is unlicensed (reasons differing between continuities) and therefore operates outside the law and the established medical system.   For reasons that are not revealed until late in the manga, Black Jack requires large sums of money and will often charge outrageous fees.  On the other hand, he will also often treat a patient for free or a nominal payment if the whim strikes him.

The stories are mostly episodic, and the order of presentation is not necessarily the order they occur.  Most of them features valuable lessons about life, usually for the patient or another civilian, but sometimes for doctors or Black Jack himself.

In most of the stories, Black Jack is accompanied by Pinoko, a cyborg he created from a parasitic twin that had never fully developed.  Her artificial body makes her look like a small child, and she usually acts like one, but Pinoko considers herself a grown woman and Black Jack’s wife.  This can get pretty disturbing, but Tezuka never takes it in a sexual direction.

The first story in this volume is “Needle”, a thriller which begins with Black Jack successfully completing a tough operation.  But an earthquake causes the tip of an IV needle to break off and travel down the blood vessel.  Now Black Jack and his surgical team must try to locate the foreign object and remove it, before the heart is reached.   Truly, the human body should not be underestimated!

“Where Art Thou, Friend?” is a flashback story that explains Black Jack’s mismatched skin tone.  As a child, Kuro’o was in a horrific accident, and needed a large skin graft immediately.   The only donor available (because the other classmates either chickened out or were forbidden by their parents) was a mixed-race child named Takashi.

Decades later, medical techniques have advanced, and Black Jack could get matching skin and have his facial scars ameliorated, but feels he would be dishonoring his friend by rejecting the lifesaving gift.  This becomes his permanent attitude when Black Jack learns that Takashi died fighting for the environment in Algiers.

“Assembly Line Care” and “The Blind Acupuncturist” both have Black Jack clash with other doctors.  In the first, a hospital director is keeping  costs low by running operations like an assembly line, which is efficient, but gives an impression of impersonality.  In the second, the title alternative practitioner donates his services freely, and dislikes Black Jack’s onerous fee structure.  But he’s a little too hasty to volunteer, and makes a needle-phobic patient’s condition worse.

This volume also contains a “sealed chapter” (one that was excluded from the standard collections), “The One That Remains.”  Sextuplets are born in Germany, one hideously deformed.  The doctor in charge calls in Dr. Kiriko, a specialist in painless euthanasia.  On the plane, Kiriko encounters Black Jack who violently objects to allowing patients to die.

Black Jack gets Dr. Kiriko detained by the police, and shows up in his place.  While the sixth infant is deformed to the point of never being able to have a normal life, it’s also the most likely to survive, as the other five sextuplets are sickly.  Indeed, one has just died!  Black Jack suggests an audacious plan.  He’ll use the organs of the dead sibling to fix some of the mutant’s deformities.

In the end, all the normal-looking babies die, but the sixth sibling is now no longer deformed and will survive.  The public (who had not been told about the deformity thing) cheers, and Dr. Kiriko (finally released from custody) no longer has a patient.

The disturbing images and morbid subject matter caused the story to be pulled from compilations aimed at the original audience of young boys.

Although Tezuka felt no compunctions about just making up diseases for a good story, his anatomy is excellent and the operation scenes look realistic.  This may be difficult for more sensitive readers.

Some physical depictions of other races are done in the then considered okay in Japan burlesque style that is now seen as highly racist.   This translation has left this in place rather than have them redrawn.

Recommended for fans of medical drama.

Here’s the opening for one of several animated adaptations:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQUEZ4kGwMU

Book Review: The World Grabbers

Book Review: The World Grabbers by Paul W. Fairman

Dane Morrow feels like a failure.  He used to be a bright young man, enthusiastic about becoming a writer, and seeing a lovely young woman.  But his stories didn’t sell, and his book vanished into the publisher’s slush pile without trace.  Plus, Dane began to feel there was something missing from his life.  He tried studying Eastern philosophy, but nothing clicked and he lost interest in keeping jobs.  Now, he’s been dumped, and is down to not quite enough money to pay the week’s rent at the downmarket rooming house he’s been reduced to living in.

The World Grabbers

That’s when Dane sees an advertisement for a lecture by a swami called Sri Ahandi.  Supposedly, this man has some information about human potential that allows his disciples to become successful.  Dane is skeptical but somehow intrigued; as he has nothing better to do, he goes to the lecture.

Sri Ahandi (nee Robert Jones) at first seems to be peddling the sort of “power of positive thinking,” “law of attraction,” “prosperity gospel” hokum that many gurus pass off as wisdom.  But as Dane becomes acquainted with the people in Sri Ahandi’s circle, and strange coincidences begin piling up, it becomes apparent that this teacher has something more than empty words up his sleeve.  Especially as the mysterious man who calls himself William White is insistent that Dane should sever his association from Sri Ahandi immediately for his own good.

This book is marketed as having been inspired by One Step Beyond, a television program that ran from 1959-1961 with tales of the supernatural and psychic powers that were allegedly based on real events.  However, this particular story is just plain fiction.

I shared Dane’s frustration as the people he talks to continually evade straight answers and explanations, though none of them precisely lies.  (There are characters who heavily slant their perceptions of what they’re doing to put themselves in the right.)  Still, there’s enough information that Dane should have figured out that Sri Ahandi was bad news well before he sees it for himself.

It seems that Robert Jones was a faith healer who was nearly lynched for attempting to save a girl’s life.  Embittered, he came to be trained by the Enlightened Ones (they don’t use that name themselves) in certain advanced mental techniques.  He cut his training short to come back to America and become a guru.  Sri Ahandi has gathered a group of people ruled by greed to give them the ability to gain money hand over fist as the first part of his plan to gain world domination.  He seems to think he will rule benevolently, but eggs, omelets.

To his credit, once Dane realizes the collateral damage Sri Ahandi is causing people, he tries to fight the guru.  Alas, he has no such mental powers, and the Enlightened Ones are pacifists who will not interfere beyond words to the wise.   Will Dane’s courage and refusal to cross a moral line save the day?

There’s an attempt to have a love triangle between  Dale, his ex-girlfriend Marcia, and Sri Ahandi’s top disciple, the unprincipled Veda.  This aspect of the story is rather wooden, and in the end matters little at all.  Dale’s relationship with the annoyingly vague William White is much more interesting.

Perhaps the best bit of the book is one of the minor characters describing Sri Ahandi’s methods as applying Western efficiency to Eastern training so that one doesn’t have to spend decades in a drafty mountain cave somewhere to become a more effective person.  Which sounds great until you see the burnout rate.

The book is very much a product of the early 1960s, and I don’t believe has ever been reprinted.  You might be able to find a copy in used bookstores or garage sales.  More of a curiosity item than a must-have.

Speaking of One Step Beyond, here’s the opening:

Comic Book Review: Essential Rampaging Hulk, Vol. 2

Comic Book Review: Essential Rampaging Hulk, Vol. 2 edited by John Denning

Quick recap:  In the 1970s, Marvel Comics started doing larger magazines for newsstand distribution, most of them in black and white.  One of these was The Rampaging Hulk, which originally featured adventures taking place between the Hulk’s appearances in the first year of his existence.  But then it was renamed just The Hulk and retooled to more strongly resemble the then-hot television series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, as well as now being published in color.

The Rampaging Hulk Vol. 2

This volume continues the run with issues #16-27, which were published 1979-81.  It’s a curious mix of the television series and the comics continuity.  The usual supporting cast is not seen or mentioned outside of a brief flashback to the Hulk’s origin, and a mention of Doctor Strange in the narration.  Nor are there any of the usual supervillains–the closest we get is Rypel, who is more of a Bond villain type that wants to trigger World War Three so his underwater utopia can inherit the Earth.  Most of the time, it’s just Robert Bruce Banner wandering from town to town and getting involved with relatively ordinary people’s problems.  Interspersed with the Hulk smashing things, of course.

The opening story, “Masks”, has Dr. Banner lured from New Orleans (the night after Mardi Gras, just to be different) to the Florida Keys to participate in a wealthy eccentric’s treasure hunt.  Of course, the eccentric has ulterior motives,  The final story in the volume, “One for My Baby…and One More for the Hulk!” takes place in Las Vegas, as a past-his-prime crooner tries to get out from under the mob with the help of his new green bodyguard.

This is a real nostalgia blast for me, not just because I read many of these stories when they first came out, but because the writers couldn’t use their usual costumed weirdos to move plots, and thus tended towards topical stories.  Three Mile Island, snail darters, the last days of the Cold War, Native American  struggles, Hare Krishnas…takes me back.

Of course, not all of these stories have aged well.  “A Very Personal Hell” by Jim Shooter has the notorious gay panic scene where Bruce Banner is threatened with rape by a lisping stereotype at the “Y.”  (He saves himself by informing the would-be rapist that he is, in fact, Bruce Banner, y’know, the Hulk, you wouldn’t like him when he’s mad?)

And sadly, the ambitious color usage in some of the stories is completely ruined in black & white reprint–it looks muddy, and some of the captions are borderline unreadable.  Artists like Gene Colan, on the other hand, make it work.

A couple of the stories deal with attempts to cure Banner of turning into the Hulk, or at least lessen the rift between them.  The most striking of these is “Master Mind” in which the Hulk persona winds up in Bruce Banner’s body and goes on a rampage–which could be deadly to the much more fragile scientist.

A couple more stand-out stories:  “Heaven Is a Very Small Place” with great art by Herb Trimpe and John Severin is a sad tale of the Hulk finding a peaceful place at last, only to have the illusion fade.  “Dreams of Iron…Dreams of Steel” has Bruce Banner getting a job at a care facility for children with developmental disablilities (back then the word “retarded” was acceptable, but the shortened form is also hurled as an insult) and the Hulk bonds with an adult graduate of the facility that works at a steel mill.

Recommended with reservations for fans of the 1970s Hulk show and Hulk fans in general–check your library unless you’re a completist who has to own every Hulk story.

Magazine Review: Water~Stone Review Volume 15: Dark Matter

Magazine Review: Water~Stone Review Volume 15: Dark Matter edited by Mary François Rockcastle

This literary journal is published by Hamline University in Minnesota.  The title comes from another name of the Philosopher’s Stone, the transformative agent which turned base metals into gold, in the search for true immortality, as literature turns ordinary words into art.  This issue’s theme is “dark matter” the unknown encountered and given a name by humans in an attempt to categorize it.

Water~Stone Review #15

This issue is heavy on the poetry, unfortunately, most of it is modern poetry which (as I have mentioned before) I do not have the tools to fully appreciate–I can’t even tell good modern poetry from bad.   I did like Ruth Stone’s “Train Ride” which at least has a rhyme scheme and comprehensible imagery.  Also of note is “Song for the Generations: December 26, 1862” by Gwen Westerman.  It’s about the mass hanging of Native Americans in Minnesota as a result of a rebellion, and uses a particular line structure to reflect this event.  (For more on this subject, see my review of The Thirty-Ninth Man by Dale Swanson.)  It’s also the poem in this issue that caused the most dissension in the editorial office, as different families learned different stories of the event.

One of the two book reviews covers three books of modern poetry–because of my previously-mentioned problem, it read like gibberish to me.  There’s also an interview with poet Ralph Angel, and that was mildly interesting.

The fiction and “creative non-fiction” sections are very similar, being mostly melancholy stories about relationships with parents or loved ones that stop rather than have endings.  Of the fiction, the most striking was “Missions, 1969” by Anastasia Faunce.  A little girl is used as a servant at her mother’s moon-themed party, and learns yet another lesson about the casual cruelty of adults.

From the non-fiction section, the two most interesting pieces are “Elegy for the Old NIght Sky and Other Bodies” by Katie Hae Leo, about childlessness, being an adoptee, and dark matter; and “Dust to Dust” by Amy Roper, about the author’s job cleaning fossils for a museum.

There are also visual arts, a section of photographs titled “Open. Shut. Open.”  It’s pretty random-feeling, some are in color, a few are interesting.   Lawrence Sutin contributes two “erasure pieces” in which he has taken old books and erased most of the words to create “found” poetry.  It seems like a mutilation of perfectly good books to me.

The concluding piece is another book review, three books that reflect the reviewer’s hobby of collecting other people’s home movies.

Due to my dislike of modern poetry and the generally depressing nature of most of the prose pieces, I did not get much out of this magazine, despite the above-average quality of writing.  If modern poetry is your bag, I think you’ll appreciate this much more than I did.

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