by Doc Quantum
Johnny looked at his watch. He wanted to hear the rest of the story before the bar was closed. “So, you fought Superman, huh?”
Barry Giffen looked at him blankly for a moment before it kicked in. “Hell, yeah, I fought Superman,” he agreed heartily. “That spandex-wearing butt pirate,” he added and laughed at his own words before becoming serious once more. “Yeah, but no, I don’t have no super-powers of my own or nothin’. I had to get that from the suit.”
“A suit that gave you powers to fight Superman?” Johnny prompted. “Where’d you get your hands on something like that?”
“Oh, from some guy. Never knew who he was or why he gave it to me. I was just sitting at the bar after a long day working on the high-rises when this guy started chatting me up. He was an older guy, real serious-like, and real smart. I told him my life story, like I told you, an’ he told me his name was Mr. Provider, but I know an alias when I hear it. Said he could help me out by making me real powerful, and that he’d helped out a bunch’a other guys, too, kinda like that Monitor guy did a few years back. He asked me what I would do if I had a lot of power, like a Justice Leaguer or something. I thought he was just asking a question for the sake of conversation, ya know? Like arguing about whether Goofy was a dog or not. So I just told him flat out I’d rob a buncha banks and get enough money to start up my own professional wrestling organization. Strange thing was, he didn’t say anything — just smiled and walked away. I thought he was just a %@&$ing queer who liked to slum it once in a while. I never gave him another thought until about a month afterwards, when I found a package in my apartment after getting home from the bar one night.
“I opened up this unmarked wooden crate to find a strange-looking suit, all purple like my favorite color. I pulled it out to get a better look. It was a body-suit that looked like something a super-hero would wear, purple with a white patch around the collar, and two white metallic polka dots on the chest with black lines falling down to the waist. With it was a pair of trunks and boots in a darker shade of purple, and a white belt and white gloves. And a weird helmet. Looked like a %@&$ing Halloween costume, and that’s what I thought it was, until I saw the card.
“There was a single white card in the box, folded over with a short message written inside. It said, You are the Purple Pile-Driver, signed Mr. Provider. I tell ya, I was %@&$ing furious when I saw that. I imagined the guys at the construction site all getting their jollies at my expense, since I’d told all of them about my childhood dreams of becoming a wrestler. I figured they must’ve pulled together some cash and had a costumer make up the suit, then got some queer to bait me with the promise of power. Yeah, they were all having a bunch’a laughs, but I swore I’d get even with them. I was so %@&$ing furious that I took all my clothes off and put that costume on right away, complete with the trunks over top the long johns, just like the super-heroes did it. Finally, I reached inside and grabbed the helmet, which I’d more or less ignored until then, since I wasn’t sure what it was until then. It didn’t look like much. It was a hard plastic purple helmet which covered my whole head except for the face, and it had this queer-looking, extended white disk plastered on top of it, with a smaller purple dot inside that. There was nothin’ more to it than just that. Reminded me a bit of a miner’s helmet — ya know, the one with the flashlight on top?
“Well, I finally put it on, still cursing a blue streak at those @$$holes from the site. I was gonna head over to the pool hall where they were all hanging out and kick all their @$$es while wearing the suit. I’d show ’em all my wrestling moves, even the illegal ones, and maybe I’d send most of ’em to the hospital before I was done. I left my apartment, slamming the door behind me, and stalked down the street at night, just daring anyone to say a %@&$ing thing to me. I swear I was ready to murder the first person who commented on the suit. I guess I wasn’t paying much attention to the road, though, ’cause I ended up crossing the street and almost got hit by a car that had just come around the corner. I was too damn angry to get startled just then, and I just shouted, ‘Get outta my %@&$ing way!’ Well, ya know what? It did.
“I wasn’t really sure what was happening when the helmet kicked in, but somehow it responded to my thoughts, ya know? It sent a powerful blast of compressed air at the car, turning it over completely. It even rolled a couple of times before landing upside-down. The thing that surprised me later, when I really thought about it, was that the blast didn’t send me flying back with just as much force, like you’d expect if you had something as powerful as a turbine engine on your head. Something about the helmet kept me from feelin’ any recoil so I could keep still while blasting anything in my path whenever I wanted it to.
“After the thing with the car, I was in shock for a few moments. I just stood there in the middle of the street, my mouth open, eyes staring at the now-flaming wreck of the car. The driver got out all right, but he got his sorry @$$ out of there as quick as could be. It took me a while to realize what I’d done, and that it was me that done it. Once I put it together, though, I figured I’d have a bit of fun. I made my way to the pool hall and really went to town on the fellas from the construction site. Every single one of ’em was sent to the hospital that night.” Barry laughed at the memory.
“But–” Johnny interrupted, “–didn’t you realize that the suit was genuine? That it wasn’t a prank, after all? That Mr. Provider did for you exactly what he said he’d do?”
Barry shrugged. “I dunno. I guess I didn’t think about it much. I was still really angry.” He chuckled a moment. “Hell, I guess those guys really didn’t deserve the beating I gave ’em, after all. Oh %@&$ing well.” Barry guffawed and downed the last of his Bud. He looked thoughtfully at the empty bottom of his mug.
“That’s it. No more beer,” Barry commented, sadness in his voice. “I better make this quick, then. I’ll get to the Superman part. Well, after the thing with the car, and the destruction of the pool hall, with twenty-seven guys put in the hospital — most who I didn’t even know and just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time — I couldn’t go home. The guys from the construction site recognized me, and the cops were all over my place. I think I ended up sleeping in the park that night, though I found an abandoned warehouse the next day that I stayed at from then on. I was a %@&$ing fugitive from society! My entire grown-up life had jus’ crumbled apart in less than a day’s time. So I figured, since the grown-up Barry Giffen was on the outs, maybe it was time ta let my inner child take over. And I already had the super-suit ta do it.
“So with the suit and the energized helmet in my hands, I could take anything I wanted. I saw a car I wanted, I took it. I saw a bank with a lotta money in it, I robbed it. Simple as that. The cops could do nothin’, especially after I learned all the things I could do with the helmet, like melt metal, shoot force-fields, and even fly. Now that was a real laugh.
“Yeah, I really hit it big for a few weeks, made a real killing. I hit the diamond district, the financial district, the warehouse district, all the places with the best swag. I stole more than I could keep track of, and I kept it all in a buncha different hideouts I’d made all over the city, and a couple outside the city, too. I did exactly what I said I’d do if I had the power, and I figured I almost had enough to somehow start up that pro wrestling organization, even if it meant I had to come up with a new alias for myself and begin again.”
Johnny said, “Uh-huh. So what happened?”
“Then that limp-wrist Superman showed up,” Barry said bitterly. “It was on one of my last jobs, too. I was so damn close to the end, but he just had to show up and spoil everything. He’s a dirty fighter, too, did you know that? He’ll hit you when you’re down.”
“So how long did the fight last?” Johnny asked.
Barry was silent for a moment. “I can’t remember exactly. Might’ve been twenty, maybe thirty–”
“Seconds,” Barry muttered.
“Twenty or thirty!” Barry corrected angrily. “And he took me by surprise! And I hadn’t even had a chance to do anything. It was about ten o’clock at night, I was flying over the streets, trailing an armored car and ready to swoop down for the kill, ya know? Then outta the corner of my eye I see this blue and red streak fly at me, and this fist comes flying right at my %@&$ing head! It sent me flying back, and I just knew my helmet had been completely totalled by that one blow. I was physically fine, since the helmet still absorbed the shock, but I knew I was toast if that pansy-@$$ Superman was after me. I shouted at him, ‘I give up! You win! I give up, already!’ I’m not a %@&$ing moron. I knew I was done, though I still had an out. That was when he handed me to the police and called me a piece of %@&$ing garbage. Me! The Purple Pile-Driver!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Superman, I’m Going to Re-Run Your Life,” Action Comics #464 (October, 1976).]
Johnny looked at him sympathetically but with the same amused expression.
“Well,” Barry continued after a moment, “I had a couple of rematches with him. The first actually happened a couple of days afterward. The police were transporting me in an armored car to STAR Labs, ’cause they couldn’t figure out how to get my suit off’a me, since it was electromag… electramagnic… electrimagno — since it was electrically sealed to my body. The helmet was destroyed, so they figured I was harmless. What they didn’t know was that the suit came with a collapsible spare helmet inside it. As soon as I had a moment alone in that paddywagon, I slipped it on and blew a hole right through it, escaping easily. Wouldn’t you know it, though? Superman must’ve been really worried about me getting out and had to have been following me around all that time, because the moment I was free he was there. I’d just had my first chance to use the helmet’s power against him, but the only problem was that the second helmet had to be manually operated. I ended up pressing the compressed air setting by mistake instead of the force-field setting, and it only blew Superman back a moment before he used that queer super-sucking power of his to knock me out by making me crash on his indestructible chest. Never even gave me a chance for a fair fight at all.
“When I woke up, the lab boys at STAR had removed the suit from me, and I was sent to the pen. Ten years. Ten %@&$ing years. I was lucky, though — my cellmate Fernando was set up with an outfit called SKULL. After only a couple years in stir, they broke me out for a hefty fee — all the swag that I had hidden around Metropolis — and even stole the suit and damaged helmets back from STAR for me. As part of the fee I paid ’em, they improved the suit and helmet, making me a lot more powerful. Since I was now completely broke due to the fee that SKULL demanded from me, I went on another crime spree, robbing banks and armored cars. But then–”
“Let me guess — Superman stopped you,” Johnny said.
“Yeah, just as I was robbing another armored car. It was stupid. SKULL really ripped me off. The suit was nowhere near as powerful as they’d had me believe. Although I was able to distract Superman by causing a lot of damage so that I could escape, when it came time to face him again, the suit didn’t have the power. Ended up just knocking myself out and wrecking the helmet again. Superman sent me back to stir after taking back all the loot I’d stolen. He was such a prick about it, too, treating me like I wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. Makes my blood boil just thinking about it.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Kandor Lives Again,” Superman #371 (May, 1982).]
Johnny stood up and extended his hand. “Interesting story.”
“Thanks,” Barry said as he shook his hand.
“Only one thing bugs me,” Johnny continued. “If Superman sent you back to prison, how is it that you’re a free man now?”
“On parole,” Barry replied. “Time off for good behavior.”
“I guess they don’t see you as much of a threat,” Johnny added.
“Tell that ta Green Lantern,” Barry mumbled. “Some old guy paid me ta fight him last year. (*) Got clean outta prison on a technicality, though, so that showed him. Still, I don’t give a rat’s @$$ about that guy. Superman’s my real arch-enemy. Someday I’ll show ‘im. Hopefully sooner than later. Someday.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Green Lantern: Power and Light.]
“Well, nice meeting you,” Johnny said, walking to the door. “See you around.”
“Hey… hey, waitaminnit,” Barry yelled, following him. Johnny was already out the door, but Barry caught up to him just outside. “Hey… hey, you… hey, Johnny!”
Johnny stopped and turned around to face the rough-looking ex-con. “What do you want, Barry?” he asked in an impatient tone.
“Where you goin’?” Barry asked.
“Wanna come over?”
Johnny was puzzled. “Uh… what…?”
“It’s just around the corner. My place. Got more booze there. Got food.” Barry stared holes at Johnny, as if the Purple Pile-Driver’s helmet was still atop his head. He had an air of desperation about him as he said, almost pleadingly, “Hey, the night’s still young, pal. Where you goin’?”
Johnny Kirk shook his head as he realized what Barry really wanted. Like many guys in the closet, the ex-con wore his prejudice like a mask against his true feelings. He sighed, and said, “Go home and sleep it off, Barry.”
Then he took to the air and flew away, wondering what it was that made people with special powers cross paths with each other so often and in such a seemingly coincidental way as had happened this evening. He supposed he might never know the reason behind it. He’d been feeling restless and without purpose that evening, but after hearing Barry Giffen’s sad and pathetic life story, he was now starting to feel rather good about himself. Perhaps the young man known for a very brief time as Superman Junior was almost ready to adopt his chosen nom-de-guerre of Skyman. (*) His own life story was a tale in itself, a tale best left for another day.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Story of Superman, Junior,” Action Comics #232 (September, 1957).]
Barry stood there on the street corner for another moment, watching Johnny fly off into the night sky. “%@&$ing pansy-@$$ super-heroes,” he muttered to himself. “All the same. No time for the Purple Pile-Driver.” He then turned around and stalked down the street toward home.