Osamu Tezuka is generally regarded as the father of manga, the Japanese comic form that has only recently burst into the mainstream American consciousness. His signature works are the kid-friendly Astro Boy and Kimba the Lion and the epic 12-volume sci-fi/fantasy saga Phoenix, which spans from prehistory to thousands of years into the future. But none of those series have the pulpy psychological punch of Black Jack, Tezuka’s tale of a rogue super-doctor who performs unlicensed surgeries for cash.
It seems like a ridiculous concept, but Tezuka turns each of Black Jack’s short, self-contained episodes into a focused moral inquiry. Those philosophical ruminations generally require the set-up to be somewhat fantastic—full-body transplants, operating in complete darkness, and numerous examples of pseudoscience—and the compact narratives leave little room for nuance. But the tormented and romantic Black Jack, scarred himself by childhood surgeries, remains one of Tezuka’s most distinctive creations, and the start of this ongoing translation of the series is a milestone for world comics in English. (The books are presented in their original form with English text, so they read back to front and right to left.)