Friday, December 2, 2011

Superman as Jimmy's Dad

It isn’t uncommon for young children to make fictional characters into real life role models. Their fictional nature prevents heartbreak and disappointment and insures a constant “support system”. But there is one flaw with this mentality—this view is dependent upon the stereotypical perfection of superheroes that we have become so accustomed to. The Adventures of Jimmy Corrigan takes this role of a superhero and shows the potential damage it can have.

With the use of bright, bold red amongst the muted monochromatic surroundings, Ware is begging us to take note of the meaning behind this man that we like to call Superman. Jimmy’s initial interaction with him is stereotypical—superman helps Jimmy avoid his bossy, controlling mother. Jimmy so desperately wants to bond with his imaginary father figure that he ignores the demands of his mother. While simultaneously making Jimmy feel protected and loved, he is pursuing his personal interests with Jimmy’s mother. Suddenly the bright gloves and facemask transform to a dull pink coat and tan pants. Shortly after Jimmy idolized this man, he is seeing his hero sneak out the door after he spends the night with his mother.

The next time we see Superman, he is facedown on the pavement. On the first page that we see the dead Superman, Jimmy is in the middle of a rather depressing conversation with his deprived mother. During this conversation, Superman maintains his bright colors and the only other glimpse of such colors is in the phone. However, during the phone call with his mother, the phone stays relatively hidden and Superman stays sprawled on the ground as people pass by. Then we turn the page to see Superman picked up by an ambulance while Jimmy’s father calls. In the five frames at the bottom of the page, the bright red phone becomes more prominent. This series seems to say two things—firstly, that the role of Superman takes precedent over a phone call with his mother as a reflection of his desire for a father figure even if that means neglecting the desires of his mother. This ties back to the first interaction we see with Superman where Jimmy disobeys his mom to meet Superman. Secondly, the transfer of bright colors from the hero’s costume to the phone containing his real father’s message shows the direct replacement from a created father figure to his true dad. As soon as he receives the “real support” he had been longing for, the created support can be taken away. However, as the story continues we see that this replacement is short lived.

The next time we see Superman is while Jimmy is talking to his own son Billy. What starts as excitement to share his love of Superman with his son soon turns to terror. The gigantic form of Superman turns the house upside down and crushes Billy to the point where Jimmy has to kill his own son to take him out of his misery. Following the idea that Superman is Jimmy’s father, this scene shows the detrimental effect of the relationship between Jimmy and his father. The pain and disappointment that resulted from his father was channeled through to the relationship he had with Billy and resulted in him crushing the relationship with his son.

Next, we are presented with a piece of Superman—his mask. After Jimmy is hit by the car, the first person he sees is a man wearing the red eye mask that Superman wore. In this vulnerable state, Jimmy is seeking the support and comfort of his father, which is manifested in the form of Superman. Once his actual father appears, the man wearing the bright red color of Superman asks if this is his real father and Jimmy doesn’t say anything. Perhaps he was still confused after being hit, but I think this is showing that Jimmy doesn’t see him as his actual father. He would rather fantasize that the man wearing a red hat is actually wearing a red eye mask and is there to save him from his horrific life. Now that Jimmy has seen the reality of his biological father, he transfers the fatherly role back to his imaginary Superman.

Ware’s own definition of symbols says that they’re “especially common in bad literature”. Perhaps this definition is full of sarcasm or maybe Ware is making another snide remark about the stereotypes of graphic novels. Either way, there is no denying that The Adventures of Jimmy Corrigan takes the symbol of a superhero to summarize the dysfunctional relationship that Jimmy had with his father. When there was no father figure whatsoever, Jimmy looked to Superman who proceeded to let him down—just as his real father did.


  1. This post analyzes a part of the story that I had merely read, I did not take the time to really interpret the words and the images associated with superman, and I am really glad that I read this post. This is a fantastic paper and I find nothing wrong in the reasoning behind how Jimmy longs for his father figure and finds disappointment. Very nice job.

  2. You make an odd but possibly interesting slip in the first paragraph, where you equate superheroes in specific with fictional characters in general. Deliberate or accidental?

    The next two paragraphs display a little bit of awkward slippage between summarization and argument - it wouldn't be hard to clean up. Despite that, this is an excellent, detailed reading of some of the most interesting visual details in the graphic novel; your observations about colors are great (it might be possible to use McCloud productively in this area).

    Your reading of the Superman-God vision/dream is pretty good, but oddly ignores the fact that it *is* a dream or vision.

    The next paragraph, re: the impact of the truck and the continuing pull of the idea of superman, is good, but I think it lacks details - the kind of detail that paragraphs 2 & 3 used so well. It's still effective, but blurring from argument into speculation.

    I don't think you're really responding to Ware's multifaceted sarcasm, in which he rips on symbolism while creating a work of art which clearly uses symbolism pervasively. I'm ok with that, given the strengths earlier in the essay, but it is a rather weak ending.

    Overall: Fantastic beginning, slowly deteriorating into a merely average ending. I think it would have been possible and interesting to stay focused on the idea of superman as manifested both through red (note that Superman's costume is actually mostly blue, which makes this an especially interesting choice) - that's your best material anyway.