Thursday, March 6, 2014

Death of a Superhero

          Up in the sky, look! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Nope, it’s just Jimmy Corrigan.  Like many other kids in the world, Jimmy looked up to a super hero. With his father absent for his childhood, it’s seen that Jimmy seeks a role model, which he finds in the Super-Man (Ware 3). Completely ignoring the fancy, exciting, expensive cars, Jimmy darts straight to Super-Man exhibit to finally meet his hero, idol, his god. At this early stage in the graphic novel, we don’t know much about Jimmy, but the events that follow his introduction to Super-Man explain much of his later life.
            After Super-Man comes back to Jimmy’s home and sleeps with his mother, you can see the disappointment on Jimmy’s face. This few frame scene shows Jimmy see his hero, and loses respect for him as he isn’t so super but is just another guy. The image of the Super-Man character comes up multiple more times in the first half of the novel. As the reader attempts to piece together the tangled story lines, there is a repetitive homicidal/suicidal tendency that Jimmy fantasizes about. Apart from killing himself, Jimmy also witnesses a man in jump from the top of a neighboring building. Moment before that, Jimmy finds a note that reads “I sat across from you for six months and you never once noticed me” (18). Is it a coincidence that moments after Jimmy finds a note that essentially calls him out on being so oblivious that he happens to see someone from across the street, atop of a building, wave to him, then proceed to plummet to their death? This death is exceptionally important in the way one looks at the character of Jimmy Corrigan. This early in the comic, the suicide of the man could represent the true death of Jimmy’s childhood. Studies in psychology have shown that kids who lack a positive role model in their lives are more likely to feel suicidal or have suicidal thoughts. With the story comically be named “The Smartest Kid on Earth” while he’s portrayed as an adult almost the entire time is quite ironic. This death is at the beginning of the unraveling of Jimmy’s life.
            Ware explains, through a series of confusing panes, that Jimmy hadn’t seen his father in years and is finally going to visit him. His father’s portrayal is weak and absent minded, Jimmy seeking guidance in a fictional hero, as a child, was the best possible route for him in the long run. After an awkward night with his father, Jimmy is accidentally him by a mail truck. After he is knocked to the ground, the mailman quickly comes to see the damages done to Jimmy. At first glance the mailman has the same red facemask that the hero had been wearing earlier in Jimmy’s life (100). Is this quick trick of the eye Jimmy’s mind wishing to be rescued? It seems all too possible that Jimmy is still searching for that hero figure. It’s also recognized that after the accident Jimmy didn’t imagine his father’s face on the mailman’s body. Jimmy’s reserved character and depressing attitude could be attributed to his absences of a true role model.
            The Super-Man interpretations in Jimmy’s life don’t stop there. At the end of Jimmy’s visit with the doctor, the doctor comically tells Jimmy to “take it easy Superman” followed with “don’t go trying to be more powerful than a locomotive” (122). These subtle heroic references were not an accident. Although the reader is given no exact age of Jimmy, it is clear that he still has this heroic mentality. Even as his father begins to make small talk with the doctor, Jimmy spots a red bird outside. After staring at it for a while, Jimmy then begins to be the bird. He takes flight from the window and is soaring in the sky, much like his favorite superhero once could. Jimmy’s daydream ends abruptly when the bird finds its way into the examine room window. The presence of death taunts Jimmy in every scene of his sad life.

            Chris Ware tells the boggling story of a man who has a lot of confusion and complexity in his life. At the center Jimmy Corrigan’s life is the childhood dream of superheroes and flying and just being the cool guy with a facemask. In every aspect of Jimmy’s life the superhero ideology comes into play and it’s a mystery as to where the story will end.


Brendan Demich said...


Good job on your essay! Your understanding of the image of superman is very interesting and well-developed.

While your intro is generally good, I would be careful when asserting that superman is Jimmy's god. You don't ever provide any evidence of this in the essay, so it should be avoided.

I really liked your interpretation of the scene of superman's suicide. Your argument here is definitely my first reaction as well. In an essay, maybe you could talk slightly about the significance of some of the aspects of graphics, for example their large size on the page and even maybe their anticlimactic representation even though it was a dramatic event. Also, maybe for the comment you made about psychology, you could find helpful references.

Good analysis of the mailtruck scene. In a revision, you could comment on the significance of his dad actually rescuing him and taking him to the hospital.

The next paragraph has some more interesting interpretation, but I would like a bit more from it. A point to consider would be the mocking tone that the doctor uses.

Adam said...

Your introduction isn't very well organized, but the idea of focusing in on the relationship between the Superman theme and the suicide theme is good. In some ways this relationship is kind of obvious, of course - the real question is what you *do* with it. Death of Superman = Death of Childhood is less obvious, of course, and a worthy idea for deeper exploration.

The couple paragraphs that follow the introduction don't have any particular ambition, though. It's not that you're wrong - in fact, I think the analysis of the postman's "mask" is perfectly reasonable, as is your discussion of the superhero-related material from the visit to the Doctor's office. But you're not really developing your argument. There is a thread of death or destruction connected to superheroes here, but why bother connecting them? You're analyzing the material at one level without really showing us why it matters to our understanding of the book as a whole.

How to do that? My one thought at the moment is that Jimmy's childhood or innocence or whatever is being repeatedly confronted with death - not once but over and over again. He keeps throwing up his old defenses, and they keep failing. That might be a way of digging a little deeper into the suicide theme, if you're so inclined.