If you've followed my blog then you're aware that manga isn't one of my specialties; prior to Black Jack my only real purchase was Golgo 13. Manga can be a polarizing issue among comic book fans - or, at least, there are bloggers and columnists who try to frame it as a polarizing issue. Ultimately, manga is very successful and evidently more widely-read than North American comic books but there isn't a particularly large overlap between the two markets. Fans of North American comics tend to have little interest in manga, fans of manga tend to have little interest in North American comics.
Well and good, but I've still felt an occasional urge to try some manga just because of the hubub. I've certainly enjoyed a number of anime programs so the material should have some appeal to me. Black Jack is certainly a safe bet for a non-initiate. It's by Osamu Tezuka, one of the giants of manga's past (a prolific giant, at that). An essay at Savage Critic made me think Black Jack was to my tastes.
The titular protagonist Black Jack is a rogue surgeon who operates under the grid, sans license and demanding top dollar for his services. He gets his money because he's simply the greatest surgeon alive. His expertise is such that he's often brought in on unusual cases. How unusual? Well, the first volume includes a man with an infection on his face which possess a sentient life force.
Black Jack seems to be a mercenary out for money, but since he's the protagonist of an ongoing fiction, naturally he's concealing a gentle, merciful heart. He's Dr. House without the drugs. Ideally, Black Jack tries to get paid and serve comeuppance to those who deserve it. In one tale he offers reserved support to a young polio victim who reminds him of his own childhood spent combating a fragile body. In another, he lends a hand to a female doctor derisively nicknamed "Black Queen" because her business-like approach to medicine reminds colleagues of Black Jack himself.
Overall, I had a good time with Black Jack; Tezuka's style was very cartoonish here, which I assume is because he intended Black Jack to be read by people of all ages. Some of the gonzo cartoon gags seem out of place next to the bloody surgical scenes, but the humour is sometimes welcome, especially that of Black Jack's self-proclaimed "wife" Pinoko.