Here at Crossing the Streams, we check out those moments when characters who don’t normally interact suddenly do.
An intercompany comic book crossover is an inherently silly idea. The stories they tell have both world-ending stakes and inconsequential outcomes. Their events will never be directly referenced again, mostly due to the fine print that had to be hashed out by lawyers from each side of the crossover, but the stories have to pretend like they matter in the moment or no one would read them. Still, there’s fun to be had, especially if no one takes the affair very seriously. Such was the case when Archie Comics and Marvel Comics came together to tell a tale that Archie Comics called Archie Meets the Punisher and Marvel Comics called The Punisher Meets Archie. Each issue contained the exact same interior pages but with a different cover and title depending on who was publishing it.
Written by Batton Lash with John Buscema handling the Punisher side of the art and Stan Goldberg handling Archie and the gang, the comic told the story of the Punisher’s first (and only) time coming to Riverdale. He was hot on the trail of a slippery criminal who was known as “Red” and who, as fate would have it, looked an awful lot like Archie Andrews. What followed from there was a series of misunderstandings and misdirections as everyone got the two confused and the Punisher nearly shot the wrong person.
Luckily, the Punisher was working for the government and they made him promise not to kill Red. That’s the only reason Archie survived his first encounter with Frank Castle. While bullets were fired and people ducked for cover at several points during the story, no one was shot, which was good news for the students and faculty of Riverdale High School.
Flipping through this book is a joy. It’s a mental leap to see two such disparate art styles as Buscem and Goldberg working together on a single page. By the time this book came out in 1994, both were old pros at their respective styles and both kept their characters on the model each were familiar with drawing. This lead to a relatively line-free, simple Archie meeting the darker-inked, more shadowed Punisher. The incongruity of it added to the fun. These characters weren’t met to meet up. Yet, here we were.
The book moved along at a brisk pace. Red came to Riverdale in the guise of a professional businessman who Veronica’s father thought was on the up-and-up. The con artist and drug dealer took Veronica out on a date to a Josie and the Pussycats concert where he showed his true colors and then kidnapped her. It was a startlingly similar plot to the time the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles met Archie but if an idea works, you just go with it.
Multiple mini-crossovers happened throughout the book. Sabrina the Teenage Witch briefly appeared in a panel where she hinted she’d just met Doctor Strange. Millie the Model (an old Marvel character) and Kathy Keene (a similar Archie Comics characters) briefly interacted. And Sonic the Hedgehog and Spider-Man had brief cameos in a scene that appeared to be straight out of that time Scooby-Doo met Batman. Villains really need to stop bringing their victims to giant inflatable balloon factories that keep their balloons fully inflated at all times.
Of course, the story ended happily for everyone except Red. It was hinted that he died off-panel though it wasn’t shown so it might not have happened. Readers were allowed to fill in the blanks themselves.
As everything was wrapping up, the Punisher shared a sweet moment with Miss Grundy. Jughead gave the Punisher’s sidekick Microchip a sack of cheeseburgers. Frank Castle even wore the Riverdale sweater he was handed as he headed out. It was a sweet little ending to a story no one was demanding but managed to hold up pretty well. The Punisher and Microchip peeled away from Archie on their way to their next crossover which was Punisher and Batman: Deadly Knights, published just two months later.
The story ended with the implication that an X-Men / Archie crossover was in the works next, though nothing came of that idea. This remained the weirdest story featuring either of these characters until that time the Punisher went into outer space and that time Archie met KISS. Those stories all vibrate on the same weird plane of existence together and I couldn’t be happier that they were all published.
The Punisher Meets Archie comes off as some weird fever dream. It’s a ton of fun and an interesting artifact of the anything-goes crossover-o-rama that was the mid-1990s. It certainly isn’t an essential addition to anyone’s collection but few crossovers are. Try to track it down if any of this sounds like it’s up your alley.