I'll have to confess that either through a combination of the rapid release schedule or the identikit design of the books, the latest volume of Vertical's Black Jack library completely missed my attention. One hand evidently wasn't watching what the other was doing at Bizarro Wuxtry, the shop in Athens where I have a regular order for the series, and volume twelve didn't make it into my bag a few months. So it sat on the shelf until the next visit, when Devlin, the manager, asked whether I had it. Honestly, I was not sure. It was only because I remembered that I had the notion to do a little writeup here of every fourth volume in the series that I figured that I must have missed it. Who would have figured that my little conceit would make a difference?
Even paging through the first installment reprinted inside didn't help much; the patchy, mostly subplot-free nature of the episodes don't always make them extremely memorable for me. So it is that, twelve books in (of a projected seventeen), the small cracks in one of Osamu Tezuka's best-known series start to show. With so few recurring characters and only occasional hints of subplots, the art becomes the main thing that keeps me coming back to the comic.
Case in point, I finished this most recent volume a week ago, and this morning tried to remember which fourteen episodes appear in it. I failed. I can name fourteen Black Jack episodes easily, and when one of them features one of the most unusual examples of Tezuka's "star system" of rotating faces and characters from previous comics into his other series and lets Jungle Emperor Leo appear as a different lion cub, it's pretty simple to remember that one. It's in book twelve, and so is an interesting look back at the hero's youth and a classmate who will not stop laughing. Otherwise, this book is really more of the same. I certainly recommend that anybody who enjoys comics pick up a couple of Black Jack books, but twelve volumes in, I'm starting to wish that Vertical would release these a little more slowly and make them more special, and fill in the gaps in their schedule with some other Tezuka comics, like Princess Knight or Ambassador Magma.
Sorry to not sound as enthusiastic as I should - these are, despite my malaise, very good comics by one of the medium's masters - but if I understand correctly, with volume 12, we're fast approaching the point where Tezuka transitioned the series away from a regular, twice-monthly episode and only released a handful of installments a year. Black Jack is wonderful, and an occasionally sinful little treat, but even its creator seemed ready to move on to something new. Recommended with reservations.