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 Black Bat #1: Brand of the Black Bat & Murder Calls the Black Bat

Book Review: The Black Bat #1: Brand of the Black Bat & Murder Calls the Black Bat by Norman Daniels (writing as G. Wayman Jones)

Tony Quinn was a handsome, wealthy and highly competent district attorney until the day of Oliver Snate’s trial.  This time he had proof of the gangster’s illegal activities, actual recordings of Snate openly talking about his crimes.  But Snate had a plan to destroy the evidence.  Out-of-town criminals infiltrated the courtroom, and when the recordings were brought out of their protective cover, the thugs caused a riot.  One of them hurled a bottle of vitriol on the recordings, incidentally also hitting D.A. Quinn, who had moved to protect the evidence.

The Black Bat #1

The acid hit Tony’s face, horribly scarring him, and more importantly, rendering him blind!  With the key evidence destroyed and a less effective prosecutor filling in, Snate’s slick lawyer was able to get the case dismissed.  Without his sight, Mr. Quinn thought his career was over, and the medical experts told him there was nothing they could do.  Tony became a hermit, aided only by his manservant “Silk” Kirby, a former conman who’d reformed to help Tony against an earlier assassination attempt.

Then a mysterious woman arrived, who told Tony that if he secretly went to a certain town in Illinois, there was one doctor that could cure his blindness.  After a period of recovery, not only could Tony Quinn see again, but he now possessed the ability to see in the dark!  Remembering how Snate had mocked him as “blind as a bat”, Tony decided to conceal his new abilities, and operate as the mysterious vigilante, the Black Bat.

In one of those interesting coincidences comic book history is littered with, the Black Bat first appeared in Black Book Detective about the same month that Batman first appeared in Detective Comics.  And it very much was a coincidence–the pulp character was called “the Tiger” in the original draft, from the striped facial scars.  But the publisher of Black Book Detective wanted him to be the lead character in that magazine, so he was rewritten into a darker mode, drawing on much the same cultural influences that Bob Kane and Bill Finger used to create Batman.

The two very similar characters brought about mutual threats of lawsuit–but the companies settled on an agreement that Batman would appear in comics only, while the Black Bat would stick to prose.  We’ll get back to that later.

Back in the story, Oliver Snate has graduated to making armored cars vanish on a regular basis.  He’s smart, but not that smart, so the Black Bat suspects a criminal mastermind at work.  The Black Bat begins his plan by interfering with a bank robbery.  A ex-boxer named Jack “Butch” O’Leary and the mystery girl, Carol Baldwin, get caught up in this and join the Black Bat’s team.  The Black Bat also makes an enemy of Detective Sergeant McGrath, an honest policeman who wants to arrest the vigilante for breaking the law.  McGrath catches on to the connection between the Black Bat and Tony Quinn quickly, but is never able to prove they’re the same person.  (Police Commissioner Warner also suspects, but is much less motivated to catch the Bat.)

It turns out that Carol’s father was a police officer who’d been blinded by Oliver Snate in a different way some years before.  Dying, he convinced Dr. Harrington, a brilliant surgeon living in obscurity for reasons never discussed, to transplant his intact corneas and other vital bits into Tony Quinn’s eyes.  (Dr. Harrington is declared dead offstage at the beginning of the second story, so we never follow up on him.)  Carol and Tony are strongly affectionate towards each other, though they both know romance is out of the question.

Now that all the pieces are in place, it’s time to run Snate to earth, and expose the true villain behind him.

Our heroes are pretty cold-blooded about killing; Tony and Silk don’t hesitate to shoot criminals even before they become vigilantes, and the team racks up quite a body count by the end.  Perhaps the most brutal moment is when the Black Bat straight up murders a parked getaway driver so that bank robbers will be forced to use a car he’s gimmicked to record their voices.

The Black Bat’s double life is a recurring problem; he must often cut investigations short and hurry home so that poor, blind Tony Quinn can be seen to still be blind and most certainly not running around in a hood and cape.

Carol’s backstory has her be an effective solo operator until she joins the team, at which point she never takes initiative any more, just doing whatever the Black Bat assigns.  Yes, she does get into peril a lot and need to be saved, but Silk and Butch are about equally peril-prone.

In the second story, several elite jewelry emporiums discover that large portions of their stock have turned counterfeit, seemingly overnight.  One owner is apparently driven to suicide, while another consults Tony Quinn (who used to be his lawyer before being elected district attorney) before apparently driving off a cliff in an exploding automobile.  When a hitman shows up to kill Tony, he realizes that the crooks behind this bizarre series of events must think he knows more about what’s going on than he really does.  Time to become the Black Bat!

Freed of having to do a lot of set-up, this story is more of an action-mystery with plenty of suspects.  There’s a nasty torture scene, though the cover switches Silk with Carol for the equivalent peril.   The bad guys’ major weak point turns out to be that the field leader of the thieves is obviously planning to betray his boss just as soon as he has the loot.  There’s some ethnic stereotyping.

One neat bit that comes up is that Tony’s scars make the Black Bat not be a master of disguise.  He can disguise himself a bit, but he’s no man of a thousand faces, leaving that to the clever Silk.

Now, remember that deal I mentioned a few paragraphs ago?  Eventually, the publisher of Black Bat wanted to adapt some of the magazine stories to comic book form.  But they couldn’t use the name “Black Bat,” so he was changed to the Owl.  Oops, by the time the art was finished, someone had started publishing another superhero named “the Owl.”  So the script was quickly changed by Raymond Thayer to call the main character “the Mask.”  “The Mask Strikes” from Exciting Comics #1 is the first half of “Brand of the Black Bat” with a few names changed, and the hero wearing a noticeably bird-themed hood.  Very compact art that gets a lot done in a few pages.

The Black Bat’s origin went on to inspire comic book characters Dr. Mid-Nite and Two-Face.  Batman-related character Cassandra Cain took up the name Black Bat for a few issues before a reboot made her vanish (the latest version of her is now called “Orphan”), and the Tony Quinn Black Bat finally got to appear in comics in a series from Dynamite.

Recommended for pulp fans, and fans of two-fisted vigilantes who don’t pull punches when dealing with criminals.

 

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