Being a comic, there are images everywhere in Jimmy Corrigan, but Ware does an excellent job focusing in on some to give them extra meaning. Two symbols that are used interchangeably throughout the book are the well known images of Superman and his mask. Ware defines a symbol with the typical description of “something that represents something else,” but goes even farther to claim that it is “a sign used to represent an understood corresponding aspect of experience, generally read, and not appreciated as an esthetic form in and of itself.” Superman and his mask can satisfy either of these definitions. In the most basic sense, Superman is not really who he claims to be, but just some man in need of a day job who dresses up as superheroes for money. Superman is representing this man, and the man represents him, while the mask serves as the means to this deception. Ware fulfills the second part of his description by adding an emotional tie between Jimmy and Superman. Growing up without a father, Jimmy clings to this idealized vision of what grown males can be, praising Superman comics. This strong male figure gives Jimmy someone to look up to and becomes his idea of the ideal father. Readers can recognize this scenario and feel sorry for Jimmy, giving Superman an esthetic contribution to the comic.
Our first indication of Superman is the image of Jimmy, excitedly getting ready to go meet his idol, wearing a homemade superhero mask. Superman is the only possible father figure available to Jimmy, causing him to cling to this unrealistic dream of Superman as his father. He is awed by this average Joe who is dressed up like his hero, being too young and naïve to realize that he’s just a manipulative sleazeball. Here, the mask represents this man’s manipulation. He is able to conceal who he really is in order to get what he wants. Hiding behind his safety net mask, he gets all of Jimmy’s praise and gets to sleep with Jimmy’s mom.
The mask takes a shift in meanings as Superman hands it over to Jimmy the next morning. Ware physically represents this by changing its color from red to orange. Now, it becomes something that Jimmy will hide behind, but rather than manipulating others, he attempts to manipulate himself. Jimmy hides behind this mask, trying to hold on to his idealized vision of his father as some sort of superhero. Even once he gets too old to believe that Superman is his dad, he never lets go of the hope that there is something exciting and exotic about this mystery man he has never met. The mask stands as a symbol for this desperate hope. After traveling to visit his father, Jimmy is disappointed that he is just as boring and normal as his son. Rather than vacationing on a boat, drinking gin and tonics and having beautiful women waiting below deck, Jimmy finds himself dining at Burger Kuntry listening to his dad complain about the service. This real-life version of his father is absolutely nothing like Superman or his daydreams.
Jimmy’s desperate wish first came crashing down when he received the letter from his father asking to meet. With this jolt of reality, Jimmy started to question the idea of his father as someone to look up to for having such a great life. By knowing the truth, there was no going back to his Superman days. There was no way his father could ever live up to Superman, so Jimmy was bound to be disappointed, even if any of his various daydreams about his father somehow came true. This idea is put into a visual representation as Jimmy’s co-worker, dressed as Superman, commits suicide. Jimmy’s Superman image of his father dies just as a real Superman comes crashing down from the top of a building. And just as Jimmy’s co-worker left with a suicide note, so did Jimmy’s dream dad. The letter from his real father was what lead to his death. Ware complexly uses the image of Superman to give the reader a feeling of both deception and a false, desperate hope in this deception. Knowing Jimmy’s background and the state of his life, there is emotion involved as he clings to his romanticized lie, giving the image of Superman an esthetic quality, and thus fulfilling Ware’s definition.