Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth is unlike anything I have ever read; it is truly a unique experience. Although written in comic book form this is not your typical comic book story, rather than the extraordinary, Ware displays the ordinary, rather than the brave and mighty superhero, there is Jimmy, a depressed, lonely man. Where most comic books offer action, Jimmy Corrigan illustrates deep and complex emotions. The images may have exquisite graphic art, like many comic books, but the story portrayed though that art is vastly different.
The differences between Jimmy Corrigan and the “normal” graphic novel is revealed with in the first few pages with two panels depicting of the superhero jumping off the building. The first panel, taken by itself, seems as if the man is just about to fly off to rescue the damsel and save the world. The hope created by this picture is destroyed in the next panel with the man lying face down in the street. The image is strikingly emotional and highlights the departure from the traditional comic book. Of course, we all know that men cannot fly and this is the logical progression of events, but there is something about the cape that makes us think otherwise. We expect to find stories of the impossible in comic books and instead we are given reality. It right away tells us that this will not be the story about the brave superhero saving the world. This gives us a greater understanding of the rest of the novel, as we realize that instead the story will be about a tragic version of reality.
There is something especially heartbreaking about a fallen hero (in this case literally). It is not just an ordinary person experiencing tragedy but someone who is supposed to be stronger, braver and, frankly, otherworldly. Seeing a hero figure struck by misfortune, or in this case death, takes away not only a life but also the hope that life brought to so many people. Ware uses this image to, almost instantly, introduce the reader to the depression and tragedy of Jimmy’s life in the novel. We are guided in the opposite direction of the normal superhero story about rising from the ashes and we are just given the ashes. Superman, a man who is supposed to be practically invisible, perishes. Not only does he die, but he does not fall during an epic battle, sacrificing himself to save the world, but rather in a mundane, unexciting scene of taxi cabs and bicycles. Even after he falls, no crowd forms, only one man seems to be concerned. The rest of the people in the scene just carry on with their lives. We are left with no inconsolable lover, just a scene of ordinary people going on with their lives, the tragedy of indifference at the death of a man dressed as a superhero. Much of Jimmy's life it seems is a tragedy of indifference. Those around him tolerate him, they do not feel many strong emotions towards him at all it seems, the only exception being his mother.
Many people, including the character Jimmy, idolize superheroes from a young age. Even into adulthood, the magic about them lingers. Ware makes us question our undying admiration of superheroes. Why is it that a cape can make so much difference? Superheroes are a departure from reality and the shining example of valor, courage, strength and bravery. These panels shreds all of those labels. They clash the fantastical and amazing journey of the superhero with the tragedy of reality. In the image, the colors of the background are dreary and mundane. The only bright colors are represented in the superhero. This represents the usual dichotomy people see between superheroes and the rest of the world. In the first image, this brings a sense of hope, as superheroes normally do. The second image of our superman lying on the ground, effectively destroys this hope and reveals the seemingly unbreakable faith and trust we have in superheroes. The panels illustrate the amazing belief people have in heroes. Often times people fail to see them for what they are, people. They can do no wrong and don’t have to live by the normal laws, such as gravity, in our minds. Ware effectively shows that this idea is false. In the end, the people we put an inordinate amount of trust and belief in are just like us. This also applies to Jimmy’s father in the book. People view at fathers a lot like they view superheroes, strong, just and brave. The reality can be quite different as Ware illustrates in the novel. Jimmy's dad was not present for much of his life and now that he is, he displays none of the characteristics we expect in fathers. The same can be said for Jimmy's ancestors father. Ware tears down these views and these panels clearly show the lack of congruity between expectations (set up in the first panel) and the harsh reality (the second panel).