Superfan – Part 1

Superman has a humiliating experience when he meets his “superfan” who plots to take over the hero’s identity and keep Superman for himself. A hot story from new author Ricky Jaye! (Part 1)

Superfan – Part 1
by Ricky Jaye

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superfanThe lights were low. A row of candles flickered on the mantle. A full-length mirror was propped up below the shuttered window and all the doors were closed. Everything was set up the way Gunther liked it.

Gunther stepped in front of the mirror. Wait, no. He stepped back. Not yet. This had to perfect. Gunther shook his head back and forth. He cracked his knuckles. This is it, this is it, this is it. He took a deep breath and stepped forward.

Yes. Gunther looked in the mirror and saw a tall, pale man with dark hair flopping about his head and running over his wide face in a scruffy, untrimmed beard. Naked except for a pair of blue, low-rise briefs and a silver ring around his right ring finger, the man was a vision. His chest was a perfect pair of hairy domes with a deep crevasse running down the middle, his abdomen a solid wall packed tight with warm, unbending marble. His arms were cannons, his legs trees, his shoulders rocks that could hold up the world. He was perfect and he deserved everything.

Gunther stared at himself, not wanting to move. Slowly, he raised his right arm and curled it into a flex, watching as his bicep rolled into a tight ball of muscle. His other hand glided across his hairy abs and fiddled with the waist band of his blue briefs. His cock was pushing against the fabric, tenting his underwear in front of him and pointing at the man in the mirror.

Gunther turned his head slowly, slowly. He stared at his chest, tattooed on which was a great red ‘S’ set inside a triangle. Gunther smiled and caressed it. Here I am, here I am, here I am, Superman.

The city sparkled. Viewed from this height, Metropolis looked like a field of diamonds. It was, Superman reflected, always beautiful, no matter how often he looked down upon it.

But Superman knew that all was not as it seemed. The city sparkled, but beneath that brilliance lay a darkness that if given the chance would corrupt everything that the good people of the city had worked for. And when those people were powerless against that darkness, it was up to him to set things right.

Superman passed through a cloud. Droplets of icy water condensed on his skin, wrapping his large, muscular body in a cool cocoon. After coming out the other side, he began his descent into the city’s industrial district.

Landing quietly on a rooftop, Superman clenched and unclenched his powerful fists, pushing warmth back into his body. His cape swooped around his mighty frame and settled at his feet. He closed his eyes and concentrated. Slowly and softly, he began to hear voices coming from inside a nearby warehouse.

“…sure this place is safe, boss?”

“’Course I’m sure. I talked with my contact in the department. No cops know we’re here.”

“And what if… uh… what if HE shows up?”

“Well, then we’re probably fucked. But you think blue boy pays attention to every little transaction in the city? He’s probably rescuing some kitten caught up a tree or something. Now shut up. I think I hear our guests approaching.”

Superman focused. Sure enough, he heard footsteps. Lifting silently into the air, he glided over to the warehouse and hovered near a broken window, careful to avoid detection.

Superman caught a glimpse of himself in the shattered glass. Hanging there, his suit still moist from his descent, he looked every bit the superhero. His muscled body was large and powerful, but sleek, and capable of deadly precision. Whoever was in there didn’t stand a chance against him, but it was not his place to make the rules. He peered inside the window.

Five men, all of them armed, stood at one end of the warehouse. They wore sweatshirts, jeans, and caps pulled low over their faces. The exception was a tall, portly men who stood encircled by the others. He wore a dark three-piece suit, complete with overcoat, and a wide-brimmed hat. This, Superman knew, was Gino Castiggliani, a wanted gunrunner. He was flanked by two slightly shorter but well-built men who looked to be packing large, semi-automatic weapons. Two men in the back were standing on either side of an enormous metal crate that Superman guessed held the evening’s merchandise. Unfortunately, the case seemed to have a lead coating on it that Superman could not see through with his X-ray vision. More and more criminals were doing that nowadays.

Superman readied himself but did not make his move. Below, four young men entered the warehouse. One wore a backpack. All of them had tucked pistols into the waists of their pants and covered them with the bottoms of their shirts. They hadn’t made much effort to conceal them, and Superman didn’t need his X-Ray vision to see past the deception. One of the group, a young, dark-skinned man dressed in dirty jeans and a baggy jacket, stepped forward.

“You got the stuff?” the dark-skinned man asked.

Castiggliani crossed his arms in front of his chest. His voice was low and resonant. “What, that’s it? No hello? We’re not in any rush here, boys. The bargaining has just begun.”

The dark-skinned man shifted in place. “Look, we don’t wanna be here longer than we have too. Now do you have the stuff or not?”

Castiggliani chuckled. “Ah, I used to be like you, so impetuous and impatient. Thinner too.” The man remained stone-faced. “But I can see you want what you came here for. Yes, we have it.”

The dark-skinned man eyed the crate in the back of the room. He indicated it with a nod of his head. “Yep, that’s it,” Castiggliani chortled. “More than enough firepower to wipe any rival gang off the map for good. Straight from America’s front lines to the streets of Metropolis.” The man took a step forward. “Nuh-nuh-nuh. Not so fast. Let’s see some collateral.”

The dark-skinned man nodded and motioned to his friend with the backpack, who stepped forward. He slid the backpack off his shoulders and handed it to the dark-skinned man, who opened it and held it under Castiggliani’s face. From the window, Superman used his X-ray vision and saw that the bag was full of cash, all of it haphazardly bound up in rubber bands. This was what Superman had been looking for: the money stolen from the First Bank of Metropolis a week earlier.

Castiggliani nodded his approval. “Very nice work. Very nice. Vinnie, the bag.” The man to Castiggliani’s right swooped forward and snatched the bag out of the dark-skinned man’s hand faster than he could react. Castiggliani grinned. “We’ll have to count this, naturally. But as a sign of good faith, I see no reason we can’t load the crate onto your vehicle ahead of time. You’ve been a very good customer.”

The dark-skinned man cocked his head. “How do we know you’re not ripping us off? We should open the crate first, take a look inside.”

“My boy, I’m hurt. As if I would lie to you. Besides, time is of the essence here. No telling who might show up. You can open this crate when you’ve returned to your home base. I assure you it’ll be well worth it.”

Superman had heard enough. He raised his wrist to his mouth and whispered “Move in.” Then, as the dark-skinned man began to protest, Superman burst through the window.

“Holy shit!” Two of the gang members started to run for the door. Superman swooped down and threw them to the ground. They scurried towards the back of the warehouse.

Castiggliani’s men drew their weapons. “Rip im’ to shreds!” A hail of bullets zoomed across the room only to bounce painlessly off Superman’s body. They pinged and panged off his chest, his arms, and his face, feeling like no more than light pinches. Superman stared straight ahead.

Once the clips had run out, Superman spoke. “Please remain in the back of the warehouse. Law enforcement agents will arrive shortly to apprehend you.”

The dark-skinned man and his crew looked terrified. One cradled his head in his hands. Another had his hand at his side, ready to draw his pistol but looked too stunned to follow through. Castiggliani alone looked calm. He stepped forward. “Law enforcement? But Superman, we’ve done nothing wrong.”

Superman narrowed his eyes. “Your man is holding a bag containing 500,000 dollars stolen from the First National Bank of Metropolis one week ago. And you shot me.”

“Stolen? Well, I had no idea. I thought these boys were paying for this with their paper-route money.”

“Don’t bother trying to weasel your way out of this, Castiggliani. I don’t need to point out that you’re standing in front of a crate full of illegal firearms.”

Castiggliani didn’t break eye contact. “My lawyers will make sure it’s never opened by anyone but me. Invasion of privacy.”

Superman began to walk toward the crate. He knew what he was about to do was a little outside of his usual jurisdiction, but if it would help the police put Castiggliani away sooner, it was worth doing. He walked right by Castiggliani’s formidable frame and put his hands on the edge of the crate. With one smooth motion, he ripped the metal box wide open.

Superman’s eyes went wide. Then a fist slammed into his stomach with the force of a locomotive and sent him sailing through the air. He landed with a crash against the far wall and was promptly buried in falling rubble. He heard the screams of gang members as their bones were snapped and their insides ripped out, heard Castiggliani’s footfalls as he raced for the door, one step ahead of the game, and heard the guttural wail of the creature he had released. The box had not been filled with guns.

Superman burst out from under the pile of rubble and looked across the room. The box’s occupant was an enormous, grotesque human figure, at least seven feet tall and covered in bulbous muscle. Moving with a labored, heavy shuffle and naked except for the tattered remains of a pair of jeans, it looked barely human, an amorphous mass of might.

“No… please…” The dark-skinned man had been knocked onto his back. The monster towered over him, still holding the freshly-detached arm of one of his comrades. “Please don’t hurt me…”

“GRRRAAHAHH!” With a great roar, the creature raised a massive arm and brought it rocketing down. The dark-skinned man shut his eyes and threw his hands over his face.

The blow didn’t come. The man opened his eyes to see Superman, his legs spread wide and his muscular back rippling with effort, holding the monster steady. Superman turned his head. “Go!” he shouted. The man leapt to his feet and bounded out of the warehouse. Superman turned back to his foe, taking in the sight of its bulging eyes, protruding lips, grey skin, and mound upon mound of twisting, ropey muscle.

The creature’s other arm came down; Superman grabbed hold of it, and in a moment, the two combatants had hold on each other’s shoulders. The creature let out a primal roar that shook the room. Superman felt spittle, thick and hot, fly into his face. He redoubled his efforts. Gritting his teeth, he pushed down on the creature’s broad shoulders, trying to force it to its knees. The creature, to Superman’s surprise, pushed back. Spitting and screaming, its hands dug into Superman’s shoulders with a force Superman had rarely encountered, but it wasn’t enough. Superman tensed his back, breathed deep, and pressed himself upon his opponent. It proved too much for the monster, and the creature began to bend over backward.

It let out a new roar, but Superman continued to push. The creature readjusted its footing. Gritting its twin rows of sharp, yellow teeth, it let out a low growl, tensed up its neck, and brought its head crashing into Superman’s.

Superman broke the hold and stumbled backwards. Before he could reorient himself, a titanic fist slammed into his stomach. “Guh!” Another caught him under the chin. Superman took another dazed step back. He raised his arms into a fighting stance, but before he could act the creature kicked him in the gut. He rocketed across the room and slammed into the wall, his stomach and back burning with pain. He narrowed his eyes.

The creature began to lumber towards him, but this time Superman was ready. Bracing his feet against the wall, Superman let out a mighty yell and launched himself into a flying charge. He collided with the creature at an incredible speed, wrapping his arms around its middle and turning the both of them into a grappling, snarling projectile. The pair sailed through the opening Superman had made in the giant metal crate. They slammed into the crate’s back wall, and the force of their collision tipped the crate over so that the opening now faced the ceiling. Superman rammed the creature’s head into the crate over and over. It flailed and wailed, but didn’t submit.

“GRRAHH!” Superman kept at his work, but this time the creature, the side of its faced matted with blue blood, slid to the side and slipped out of Superman’s grip. It whirled around and Superman got one look at its wrecked, gushing face before its fist landed right on the side of Superman’s head. The hero grunted as the creature slammed him face-first into the metal wall. The creature’s hands gripped Superman’s wrists and twisted his arms into a pretzel behind him. Superman arched his back and stuck out his chest, trying to counteract the hold, but the creature only bent his arms further. Superman grunted. His joints lit up with a dull throb, his mammoth muscles all that was keeping the creature from ripping his arms from his sockets. As strong as they were, his arms felt as though they were being stretched to the breaking point.

Then he got an idea. Taking a cue from his opponent, Superman lowered his head and then flung it backward, catching the creature in its face. The hold broke, and Superman used his window of opportunity to spin the creature around and wrap his powerful arms around its head, clamping it in a sleeper hold.

The creature let out a wail that made Superman’s insides quiver. It tried to grab at Superman, but he held fast, applying increasing pressure to the creature’s windpipe. The creature groaned. Its hands batted Superman’s forearms, trying to peel them off. It began to sag in Superman’s grip. Soon the monster lost its footing. Superman got on his knees and let it droop to the floor, still applying pressure. It let out one last moan, pawed weakly at Superman’s arms, and went limp. Superman slowly eased his grip and let the creature, breathing feebly, collapse onto the floor.

Superman leaned against the wall, still in a sitting position. He rubbed his arms. The monster had done a number on him. Even now they tingled with a dim fire where the creature had twisted them behind his back.

Superman leaned forward and lifted one of the creature’s massive arms. Even unclenched, it was hard as marble. It was bigger even than Superman’s, if not so dense. Veins ran over it like a thousand tiny rivers, streaking the sickly grey skin with rivulets of blue and purple. On the underside of the forearm was a network of holes and track-marks, not unlike ones Superman had seen on certain drug addicts. Mounds of curled grey flesh marked the entrance points. Superman’s eyes glazed over in thought.

He heard police sirens in the distance and lifted his head. It was a shame he had little to show the boys in blue, but Superman had a feeling this case wasn’t over.

Black pants. Black shirt. Black mask and black gloves. Fake gun at his side. He had seen this a million times before. In order to become a hero, one had to make sacrifices. They would all love him. This was part of the process. Superman, Superman, Superman…

The Daily Planet was a whirlwind. The click-clock of wingtip shoes rang against the marble floors and phones rang like a flock of angry locusts. Metropolis’ finest news source never stopped, and this was a slow day.

Clark Kent, easily filling out a blue three-piece suit, sat as his desk. The wooden chair he was sitting on creaked under his weight, but everyone was too busy to notice. He adjusted his glasses and began to work on a story about a new mystery drug on the Metropolis streets when…

Bam! A hand hit his desk. He looked up. “Smallville!” Lois shouted, her dark eyes sharp and alert. “White’s office. Now. Robbery at Metropolis’ First.”

She walked briskly into the din, never turning her head or stopping to let someone pass. Clark stood up and followed. A robbery. He might be needed.

Perry White was leaning back in his chair, watching live news coverage of the robbery. There were hostages, and a masked man. White lowered his eyes and bent forward. “Kent, Lane.” His voice was firm. “One of you needs to get down to the First Bank of Metropolis. Second robbery in eight days. Big headline: Not For the First Time: Superman Saves City’s Favorite Bank. Huge winner. Readership up three percent. Make your cases.”

Lightning-quick, Lois fired back. “What makes you think that Superman’s gonna save the day?”

“That’s what he does. Next.”

Lois began to speak, but Clark beat her by a hair. “I’ve been doing a piece on the bank’s security, sir. I know it inside and out.”

Lois turned. “You’ve been doing that piece on the new super-drug.”

“Yes, but it involves the bank. The men who robbed it last week are involved with its trafficking.”

“Oh, whatta load of bullsh…”

“I’ve heard enough.” White shuffled some papers on his desk and looked Clark in the eye. “Get down to the bank. Lois…” he said as she started to protest. “Have the mayor’s interview on my desk by four. Dismissed.”

“Thank you, sir.” Clark zoomed out of the room so fast you’d think he was superhuman.

The security guard was bleeding. There was a brown-red gash about the size of a golf ball torn into the side of his forehead.

Gunther looked around. A group of frightened customers huddled behind the counter. One bank teller, a young woman, was crying softly a few feet away, cradling the security guard’s head in her lap. The bank manager, a stern but shaken women with short blond hair, tried again to make her case. “Please, sir…” she said. “We’ll open the safe for you. Just don’t hurt anyone else. We’ll give you what you want and…”

“Quiet!” The manager shrunk to the floor. Gunther intimidated her; he had seen himself reflected in the bank’s dark marble walls. He filled out every inch of his black sweatshirt and jeans. Even covered head to toe, the fabric still outlined his large muscles, moreso when he moved. The security guard had shoulders nearly half the width of Gunther’s. When the man had tried to club him over the head, Gunther had reacted without thinking. He’d spun around and smacked the man with the heel of his hand. Now the man was dying.

Gunther shifted in place. The mask tickled and made him want to sneeze. “Now listen!” he yelled as he faced the huddled group in the back of the bank. “No one needs to get hurt. This isn’t about you. We just need to wait.”

The crying bank teller looked up. “No one needs to get hurt?” she hissed, the security guard’s head still in her lap. “Look what you’ve done! Thomas might die!” Gunther didn’t move. His damn mask itched so much… “You’re a thug!” She looked right at him. “Superman will save us from scum like you!”

The mask still itched, but now it didn’t matter. Gunther took a few heated breaths. He clenched his fists. The teller looked down.

“Don’t…” he began, taking a step toward her, “talk about Superman.” He took another step, his boots echoing off the marble floor. The teller wrapped her arms tightly around the security guard. “Don’t tell me…” he breathed, “about Superman.” He bent over to look at her. “You don’t know what he wants. GOT IT?” Gunther’s yell filled the room. The hostages flinched. The teller didn’t move. She looked at Gunther, her big blue eyes wet with tears.

And then she was looking past Gunther. She smiled, and cried again. Gunther turned around.

It was just like he’d imagined it.

Superman wasn’t standing. He was hovering inches above the hard floor, his arms crossed over his massive chest. The blue fabric of his suit hugged his legs, his body, and his arms, making every enormous muscle pop with power. His red cape, the shade of which Gunther had long tried to duplicate, hung over his wide shoulders, billowing behind him as he hung in the air. He looked at Gunther with clear, deeply set blue eyes. Gunther gasped.

Superman extended a hand. “Give me your weapon, son.” He said. “Let these people go.”

Gunther didn’t move. Somewhere, a woman whimpered.

“Don’t make this difficult,” Superman said. “I can take that weapon away faster than you can blink. The police are waiting outside. You’d best make this easy on yourself.”

Gunther slowly moved his gloved hand toward the replica gun at his side. He lifted the flap of the holster, fingered the weapon, and slowly drew it out. He held the replica in his palm, and extended his hand to Superman…

…who took the gun and crushed it into a ball. Gunther stood slack-jawed. Superman dropped the jagged ball of iron onto the floor, where it landed with a loud ping. Superman spread his arms wide and addressed the hostages, never taking his eyes off Gunther. “You are now all safe. The situation is under control.” His voice was deep and rich. “Please file out the front doors where law enforcement officers will assist you. I will mind the perpetrator until everyone has been removed to safety.”

The hostages didn’t need coaxing. They filed quickly past Gunther and Superman, their fear gone. The bank teller and another employee supported the security guard between them as he limped toward the exit. As she passed, the teller flashed Superman a tearful smile. “Thank you. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, ma’am.” Superman was still looking at Gunther, and Gunther looked back. Soon, all the hostages had filed out onto the street, and the two were left alone. Superman alighted on the floor.

“That was amazing.” Gunther said in a rush of breath. “Truly amazing. You’re amazing.”

Superman allowed himself the tiniest of smiles. “Thank you.” He said. “Now please follow the hostages out the door. Walk in front of me. The more cooperative you are now, the easier it will be for you in court.”

Superman reached toward Gunther’s shoulder. “Wait, please!” Gunther gasped. Superman hesitated. “I mean… I just wanted to meet you.” The massive hand was still. “To see you.” Gunther reached up and grabbed a hold of his ski mask. He pulled it over his head, revealing his mat of grizzled, chestnut-brown hair and spotty, unshaven beard “I just wanted to see you,” Gunther repeated, and reached out a hand to touch Superman’s chest.

Superman grabbed hold of Gunther’s wrist. “Please turn yourself over to the police or I will be forced to move you.”

“Wait! No, just… just let me say something…” Gunther’s looked at his hero, pleading, and Superman gently let go. Gunther nursed his wrist briefly before looking up. “You’re my hero.” Gunther blurted. “The good you do. The power you have. It’s everything I want, everything I’ve ever tried to be. Ever since I saw you on TV rescuing that woman from the helicopter, I knew my destiny. I moved to Metropolis to be near you. I’ve worked to become more like you, to live up to your example, and I just wanted, just once… to see you. In person. Up close.” Gunther looked Superman up and down, from his crushing quads to his massive pecs. “To see you…”

Everything was still. Gunther gazed at Superman adoringly, and Superman, his eyes narrowed, looked back.

And then Superman turned to the side and laughed. It was a one small laugh, almost closer to a snort, but it hit Gunther like a gong. His hero was happy. “You know,” Superman said, with a small slim grin, “There are other ways to see me. I received the key to the city last week in Metropolis square. You could have come to the ceremony.”

“No, that wouldn’t do.” Gunther could feel his eyes watering for happiness. “It had to be personal. I had to…” Gunther took one step backward. “I had to see your power.” Superman towered before him in an explosion of blue and red. It was overwhelming. The superhero stood well over six feet tall, a dense wall of unbreakable muscle. Superman’s hands moved toward his hips, and his pectorals widened with gaping might. Gunther could barely speak for the thrill of it.

“I use my power to help others. That’s what it’s there for.”

“Yes, of course.” Gunther sputtered. “You use your power like a hero. You should. But it’s still yours. It’s you. You’re Superman.” Gunther hesitantly touched Superman’s right hand. Superman did not stop him. “This fist… this is the fist that pummeled Darkseid’s army into submission.” Gunther gingerly touched the hero’s abdomen. “Bullets bounce right off your stomach, like they’re ping-pong balls. We… they… people, we don’t have that power. People get winded running up stairs. But you…” Gunther pressed his hand against his hero’s warm marble stomach. He closed his eyes and whispered. “…you can move worlds.”

Gunther opened his eyes. Superman was staring at him, his smile gone. Gunther peeled his hand away from his hero’s stone-hard stomach.

“What is it you want, son?”

Gunther replied slowly. “To feel your power. I mean… just for a second, to touch it, you. To know…”

Sirens were blaring outside. The hostages had assembled and were being questioned by police. Several uniformed officers stood at the entrance to the bank, waiting but not anxious for the perpetrator to exit. After all, he was with Superman, and Superman would know what to do.

Superman looked down at Gunther. “You know that you must still give yourself up to the police.” He said quietly. “You have broken the law.”

“I know!” Gunther pressed his hands together. “Oh, I know! I’ll take my medicine, but first, oh please, oh please, Superman. Just a touch…”

Superman was still for another moment. Then Superman raised his right arm into a flex. His bicep peaked against the blue fabric of his suit. It popped into the air and stood erect before Gunther’s unbelieving eyes. Superman gazed down at the mortal beneath him.

Gunther tore off his right glove and moved his hand, hesitantly, toward Superman’s bicep. He prodded it first with his fingers, then cupped it with his hand. It was warm steel. Gunther squeezed it slightly, and marveled that it did not give nor move. It held fast, and it held strong, and it held forever. It was a ball of energy made mass, and Gunther shuddered to touch it.

“It’s amazing.” Gunther breathed. “My God, my God…” Gunther tightened his grip. “I’m sorry.”

Then Gunther sunk his fingers into the iron flesh. With his other hand he gripped Superman’s thigh. With a great heave, he lifted the Man of Steel off the ground, over his head, and threw him with all of his might toward the entrance to the bank. Superman crashed through the bank’s revolving door, bowled over several spectators, and smashed into a police car. Metal flew through the air. People screamed and ran. Sirens blared, and Gunther stepped out of the bank. He pulled his black mask over his head and advanced.

Superman was on his back amid the wreckage of what had moments before been a police car. He lifted his head and saw the man in the mask; he was tall, over six feet, and had a powerful frame. He might be an alien. He might be a robot. Superman didn’t know, but he was strong and he was a threat. His thigh ached where the man had grabbed it. He stood up. “Who are you?”

Gunther didn’t answer. He pulled back his fist and aimed a punch at Superman’s head. Superman dodged left and jabbed Gunther in the jaw. Gunther’s head snapped back. Would that he could bottle that snap and treasure it forever. Gunther punched with his other hand and Superman caught his fist. The two men grabbed the other’s shoulders with their free hands.

Superman dug his feet into the pavement. He strained his arms and bore into Gunther’s body, trying to topple him. Gunther pressed back and did not budge. The two men were close enough to hear each other breathe. Gunther looked into Superman’s eyes. He tensed his back, planted his feet, and gripped tight. He pushed against Superman with all the power he could muster. Superman pushed back, his breath coming in short puffs, but soon found himself bending backward. He readjusted his feet, pushed anew, and was bent again.

Then there was a bright brutal light and Gunther flew backward. He landed with a clash on the steps of the bank. Gunther’s black shirt was ripped open where Superman’s heat vision had torn into him, revealing his meaty, hairy chest. His skin sizzled red at the point of impact. He looked up. Superman stood several feet away. His eyes glowed a dim orange, and there was sweat on his brow. He hand was pressed to the shoulder where Gunther had grabbed him. People were watching from a distance, afraid.

Gunther rose to his feet and looked Superman in his deep blue eyes. Then he turned and sprinted up the street. People gasped and parted before him. Gunther heard Superman yell—“Stop!”—and heard the flap of his cape as he lifted off the ground.

Gunther ran straight into the mouth of a subway station, tumbled down the escalator, broke through a turn-style, and rolled onto the stone floor below. To his right was a long dark subway tunnel. To his left were a group of about ten people standing on the platform waiting for their train; they turned to look at him. He turned around, ignoring them. He itched under his mask. He felt hot all over, and his hands were trembling.

“Stop this now.” Superman demanded as he glided down the staircase and landed on the platform. For a moment there was silence while the bystanders stood by and stared. Gunther made a right fist. “Stop this now. Let these people go.”

“They can go.” Gunther said. “They can all go. Except for you. You’re coming with me.”

Superman’s never broke eye contact. “Everybody please leave,” he said. “It’s not safe.” Gunther drank in Superman’s eyes. At the bank they had been calm, unafraid—amused, even. Now they were slits. Now they were flashing with a dancing orange light.

People scrambled off the platform and up to the main street, and the two men were left alone. A shiver ran up Gunther’s herculean body, and he smiled. Very soon he would crush Superman with his own two hands.

Neither man moved. Down the tunnel Gunther heard the distant wail of an approaching train. An express, he knew. “I’ll ask again,” Superman said. “Who are you?” The train was getting closer.

Gunther took a breath. “My name is Gunther.”

“And what is it you want, Gunther?” Superman took a step forward, ready to settle the matter with force. The train rumbled closer, a wail of steel on steel.

“My name is Superman.” Gunther said, and he leapt off the platform and onto the track. He planted his feet and threw out his arms to catch the oncoming train. “Just watch!”

What happened next happened very quickly. The train roared toward Gunther, and Superman yelled out “No!” Gunther felt Superman’s great arms wrap around his middle and shove him out of the way into the concrete wall. The first car blasted by, barely missing the pair of them. Gunther immediately took Superman’s head in his hands, and shoved it backward. A car banged into the back of the superhero’s head with enough force to give anyone else an instant lobotomy. Then another hit him. And then another and another and another. Superman’s head bounced back and forth. He grit his teeth as if to grind them to knubs. His grip on Gunther slackened just the smallest bit, and Gunther leaned forward and ground the hero’s body against the passing train. Car after car screeched against Superman’s body, but all he could do was push back enough to prevent Gunther from toppling over him and train both.

The train finally flew past, and Superman had time to let out one quick breath of relief. Then Gunther landed a powerful right hook to his face. Superman grunted. Gunther sunk his fist into Superman’s stomach. Superman groaned, and bent forward. Gunther clamped his hands together and brought them down on top on Superman’s back, and the hero smashed face-first onto the concrete. Superman put his palms on the pavement, trying to rise, but before he could Gunther smashed his booted foot into the back of Superman’s head, and the Man of Steel’s face crashed through the floor.

Gunther stomped again. And again. And again and again. Superman’s face started to go numb, but in passing he felt firm fingers pulling back his hair, yanking him upright. A warm slab of muscle slid in front of his neck, and another clamped down on the back of his head. They squeezed with incredible force, and Superman knew he was in a sleeper hold. “No.” He grunted, and the weakness in his voice scared him. “No.” He kicked his legs, and the slabs clamped down harder. He tried to pry Gunther’s arms off his neck, but already he saw spots. He twisted his body, one way then the other, breathing out a long low moan, trying and failing to jerk his head out of Gunther’s grip. Then the color began to drain from his sight, and his arms slackened. And then the subway became grey, and then black. Darkness took the Man of Steel.

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