Opposites Attract

You may remember we discussed the concept of the comics crossover a while back. Well, the problem with a lot of them is that their primary purpose is marketing — stick a couple of popular characters together and hope people will buy some extra comics. The story may be alright, or it may not be. Not that many people care. What they care about is the fact that we’ve got Superman and Spider-Man together in this comic! Or Wonder Woman and Witchblade! Or Wolverine and Deathblow! We need to sell a lot of comics, think the company bigwigs, and we sure hope the suckers are willing to buy this one…

No, they’re not all that way. You find some where it’s clear that the folks involved said to themselves, “Wow, we can have a heck of a lot of fun with this. We can tell a cool stories about both of these wildly different characters, we can tell ’em so the fans won’t get mad, and even if it doesn’t sell that well, everyone who reads it is gonna LOVE it!”

Which leads me to what I believe is the greatest crossover in history.


Yes, it’s “Archie Meets the Punisher.”

Just the backstory on this one is great. The people at Archie Comics were sitting around joking about comics crossovers and picked out the Punisher, Marvel’s grim-and-gritty vigilante, as the worst possible crossover candidate for their all-American teenager. Batton Lash, the creator of the “Wolf and Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre” series, heard the idea and wrote up a story proposal. The Archie folks sent it on to Marvel, still half-thinking of it as a joke — and the Marvel publishers decided they wanted to do it. Lash ended up writing the story, with art chores shared by Marvel’s John Buscema, who drew all the scenes with the Punisher, and Archie’s Stan Goldberg, who drew all the scenes with Archie.

The comic was published in 1994. The serious comics fans rolled their eyes and passed it over. The oddballs grabbed it, cackled over it, and loved it.

So how the heck do you bring two characters this different together into one comic book? Well, you start with Frank Castle pursuing a dangerous drug pusher named Red Fever — and he has to bring him in alive, because the government thinks they can get lots of info about the underworld from him. Unfortunately, Red gives the Punisher the slip, heads for the bus station, and buys a ticket. Gee, this guy looks strangely familiar…


Holy moley, you don’t think this is gonna lead to some uncomfortable mistaken-identity mix-ups later, do ya?


Hmmmm. Could be!

So the Punisher thinks Archie is Red, Archie’s friends think Red is Archie, a bunch of thugs from out-of-town are gunning for everyone, Jughead really, really likes hamburgers, and then there’s the big sock-hop over at the high school! Miss Grundy falls in love with Frank when she thinks he’s the school’s new coach, Frank marvels at how clean and crime-free Riverdale High is, and all the excitement has Arch starting his own version of the Punisher’s War Diary…


The story is almost unbelievably weird, but it’s still fun to read, and it’s still one heck of a good story. The characterizations and artwork are perfect — you don’t get stuck with either Archie or the Punisher acting out-of-character. It spotlights the great stuff that make both the Punisher and Archie work so well. Yes, the concept is bizarre, but it works because the creators loved the characters and because they were having mad, crazy, howling fun when they put it all together — and that comes through when you read the story.

If you can find it, check it out — but be prepared for a long hunt, and be ready to shell out some serious cash. This one’s reputation has grown steadily over the years, and it’s not at all easy to find any more. But it’s worth the time and worth the price.

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