Well folks, we’re closing out another months of Marvel Madness posts featuring the weird world of inter-company cross-overs. We’ve talked about massive adventures featuring Marvel and DC’s biggest characters fighting crime together, and they’ve both been a whole lot of fun. So, to cap the month off, I’ve decided to share with you all what is perhaps the most insane thing that has ever happened in comic book history. Did y’all know that the Punisher met Archie? I shit you not, the comic we’re about to discuss is completely real. When you see that cover, or hear the idea of this comic, you probably are going to assume that it’s a joke. Just some gag that an artist made, putting two of the most incongruous characters together for a laugh. But no. This is a real comic that was released in 1994. And you know what? It kind of rules. And, as you might have guessed, it started life as a joke. See, in the 90’s the inter-company cross-over was dominating the comic book industry, and the folks at Archie Comics really wanted a piece of that. They spitballed a variety of logical characters they could try to cross over with, characters like Jimmy Olson or Peter Parker, but then editor Victor Gorelick tossed out an absurd idea. The Punisher. And, they loved it. Yeah, it started as a joke, but the ball got rolling, writer Batton Lash was put on the project, and they ended up getting full approval and support from Marvel. Hell, they even had John Buscema provide all the art for the Punisher. No one had any idea if it was going to succeed, especially since Marvel still hadn’t quite gotten into the swing of the cross-over in the 90’s, and they weren’t quite sure if Archie was going to be the character to get things going. But, the project definitely gained a lot of attention, mainly for being so completely outlandish, and it ended up being surprisingly successful. And, not just commercially, it was actually pretty beloved. And, with good reason. Because this comic is actually kind of awesome.
The story begins exactly where you think it would, with two men in trench coats chasing each other through the dirty streets of New York. The man being chased has a bit of a disadvantage, since the other person is technically in a van, but he evens things out by racing into an alley, and hoping a fence, causing the other man to exit the van and give chase on foot. And, when he starts getting closer to the fence, the man being chased decides to buy himself a little time by spraying the alley with some machine-gun fire. And the sudden appearance of bullets is enough to give the man being chased enough time to get away. He slips away from the alley, and runs right into a train station. He knows that it’s time to get the hell out of New York, since he’s being tracked down by killers. So, the man looks over the list of departing trains, and picks the place he figures will keep him most hidden. A little place called Riverdale. Oh, and the man looks almost exactly like Archie.
Well, that’s going to be problematic.
We then head right over to Riverdale to check in with Archie himself, putting the pieces in motion. We see Archie arriving at the home of Veronica Lodge, getting ready to pick her up for a 1950’s sock-hop that he’s going to get to take her to. But, while approaching the house he gets suddenly assaulted by Veronica’s little brother, blasting him with a powerful water-gun. So, seeking vengeance, Archie grabs a nearby hose, and starts chasing the little turd down, spraying pretty haphazardly, and in the process soaking his date. And, that leads to their date being abruptly cancelled. Archie is kicked out of the house, and starts storming off, complaining about his usual terrible luck and troubled love life while Veronica heads back into her house to stew.
Meanwhile, we finally get a confirmation that the man who was driving the van earlier in the story is none other than the Punisher. He’s been tracking down the man who looks like Archie, Red Fever, and has begun attacking some of Red’s colleagues. And, after beating a guy working at a comedy club, the Punisher gets some good information. Red apparently reached out to the guy, telling him that he’s setting up temporary shop in Riverdale, which he expects to be running in record time. So, the Punisher leaves the shop, gets back into his war-van with his partner Microchip, and the pair begin driving to Riverdale, ready to find Red before he can destroy the city. Which, he’s currently beginning to do. By wooing the current ruler of Riverdale, Hiram Lodge.
So, yeah, Red Fever has apparently quickly established himself as Melvin Jay, the owner of a major pharmaceutical company in town, which he’s apparently bought as a cover. And, what’s more, he’s started schmoozing with Hiram Lodge, finding new ways to take over Riverdale to turn it into his new criminal empire. And, in the process, he meets Veronica, who is rather startled by how much Red looks like Archie. Which, ends up giving her an idea. She’s still furious with Archie about the whole soaking thing, so she decides to do something completely absurd. She invites Red, a grown-ass man, to accompany her to the sock-hop, hoping to drive Archie mad with jealousy. And, because Red is a huge old creep, he agrees, because he wants to get with this high-schooler.
And, at the same time that Red is plotting his dominance over Riverdale, Frank and Microchip have finally arrived in town, and are a little shocked to find that they’ve seemingly traveled through time. They’ve both surprised to find this little slice of suburban bliss tucked away in their ugly world, and it starts to give Frank a bit of stress, thinking about the life that could have been if his family hadn’t been brutally murdered in front of him, throwing him down the path to this ridiculous life. Micro just kind of likes the peace of it all. And, as they wander the town, they pass by the most popular place in town, Pop’s Chock-Lit Shop, where we find a forlorn Archie complaining about his love life while Jughead stuffs himself with burgers. And, it turns out that they aren’t alone in the place.
While Archie and Jughead are being themselves, Pop is busy taking care of his other customers, who just so happen to be some out of town gangsters, who are here to track down and capture Red. Which, makes this awkward. Because they’re here at Pop’s because they’re convinced that Archie is actually Red, and they’ve been following him to find a chance to kidnap him. So, after they see Archie and Jughead get ready to leave, they rapidly approach the pair, and inform them that they’ll be coming along with them. And, because Archie and Jughead are stupid children, they decide to go along with it, and follow the gangsters out into an alley, and pile into their car, completing the kidnapping. But, lucky for Archie and Jughead, Microchip got a hankering for a chocolate malt, and the two ended up returning to Pop’s just in time to see some gangsters force two kids into the car, and get on the case.
Meanwhile, the 1950’s sock hop is beginning at Riverdale High School, and we see all the other Archie characters having the time of their lives, all while being a little put off by the fact that Veronica has arrived with a grown man who looks like Archie with buck-teeth. People comment on this, quite a bit, and Red generally responds by threatening anyone who gets too close to him, especially the dread Reggie Mantle. And, while the kids of Riverdale High are dealing with Red’s barely contained animosity towards them, things are starting to spice up for Archie and Jughead. Because, the gangsters who have kidnapped them have finally realized that Punisher is following them, leading immediately to a shoot-out.
Yeah, this is not exactly ideal for Archie and Jughead. But, luckily they’re able to duck down and avoid the hail of gunfire. But, the gangsters are pretty convinced that this was a warning shot, since they figure that the Punisher would have been able to kill them all very easily if he was actually trying. So, they take their lucky break and do their best to flee, realizing that he’s here to kill Red. Or, Archie. Whatever. But, while attempting to flee, they get immediately rammed by the Punisher’s war-van, causing them to spin out and crash into a nearby forested area. And, in the course of the crash, Archie is thrown from the car, coming to with the Punisher looming over him, a rifle pointed right in his face.
And, while the Punisher is realizing that he hasn’t found Red after all, we see that Red is being recognized back at the party. Because a roadie for Josie and the Pussycats is actually a New York criminal on the lam, and while he’s working he notices Red dancing with Veronica. The guy realizes that he can make quite a bit of money selling out the location of Red, and races to the phones, which are currently being occupied by Betty, who is worried about Archie not being there. But, she eventually leaves, so he’s able to make his calls while Red is busy monologuing to Veronica about how he’s going to run this town. And, while all of this is going on, the Punisher is contemplating murdering Archie.
Thankfully, before blowing Archie Andrews’ head away, Frank Castle is able to ascertain that this is not actually the redhead he’s looking for, and is in fact a high-schooler. So, he doesn’t kill him, and instead prepares himself to fight the goons who were attempting to abduct Archie, and who have come back for seconds, assuming that they have the upper hand, since they have a car. But, they didn’t take into account that this is the Punisher, and if he wants you dead, you end up dead. So, he starts spraying bullets at the attackers, giving Archie a momentary respite. Which, is when he notices Jughead hiding in a nearby drainage pipe, encouraging him to come hide. So, Archie races over to the pipe, and he and Jughead begin fleeing for their lives, assuming that whatever is at the other end of this pipe is probably better than the Punisher.
The gangsters obviously flee as quickly as they can, attempting to get away from the Punisher as he gets picked up by Microchip. Micro is upset that Red escapes yet again, but Punisher informs him that it wasn’t actually Red, and they decide that they should follow the gangsters to see if they can lead them to the real Red. And, while all of that’s going on, Archie and Jughead actually do end up escaping their pipe, and finding themselves right by a police station. So, logically they march right into the police station to report the fact that they just got kidnapped by mobsters and attacked by the Punisher. Unfortunately, it turns out that Archie is famously stupid in Riverdale, and has quite a habit of filing mistaken police reports, so the cop on duty just forces them to leave.
And, while Archie is busy being humiliated by a police officer, the Punisher is getting quite a bit of information from the stupid gangsters that he an Micro followed. They were able to tail the hoods to a secret meeting place all without getting spotted, and using some sophisticated listening equipment they listen to the gangsters discuss what’s actually going on. See, apparently the various criminal organizations of New York have been led to believe that the Punisher is working in conjunction with the FBI to bring down Red Fever, and they all assume that he will squeal and give up all of the inner workings of their crimes. So, they’ve come to kill Red before the Punisher can, and they now know that Red is actually at Riverdale High, meaning it’s time to go shoot up a sock-hop.
Which, is exactly where the police have dropped Archie and Jughead off. Much to their annoyance, since they thought they were maybe actually getting some real help. But, before they can complain too much they’re approached by Betty and Reggie, who really want to tell Archie about the weird, older version of himself who Veronica is showing off. And, no matter how stupid Archie may be, even he’s able to piece together that this mysterious guy is probably who the Punisher and those mobsters are looking for. Which, means they’re probably going to come to the party. So, they race into the building to start warning people, all while the real Red has started to grow bored with the charade. He starts creeping on Veronica, while we get a cavalcade of references to some of Marvel’s bygone teenage characters.
This little act of statutory rape is broken up by Mr. Weatherbee, but he’s unable to follow up, because there’s all sorts of insane things happening in his gymnasium at the moment. Because the gangsters have arrived, beaten up the caterers, and replaced them to keep an eye out for Red. And, at the same time, the Punisher has slipped into a sweat-suit and has started walking around the party, telling everyone that he’s the new gym coach who is here to chaperone the dance. And, in the process he begins accidentally wooing Miss Grundy, which is very upsetting.
Unfortunately, the Punisher is pretty noticeable, so while Red is busy trying to get busy with Veronica, he notices the hulking killer, and freaks the hell out. He pulls a gun and marches Veronica out of sight. And, at the same time, Archie spots the Punisher and races over to the payphones so that he can give the police a call and tell them that a serial killer is in his high school. Which, is a shame, because the gangsters who have been impersonating the caterers spot Archie, and assume he’s Red, causing them to take out their guns and prepare the execute him. Thankfully though, the Punisher is able to spot them, and he comes to knock out one of the killers, officially outing himself, and causing everything to pop off.
The gangsters all whip out their guns and begin barraging Frank with bullets. But, it turns out that the awkward sweat-suit he’s been wearing is actually made of kevlar, and he’s able to survive the volley of bullets, just revealing his real costume. And, while the Punisher begins shooting the gangsters in front of these school-children, Red attempts to sneak out with Veronica. But, right before he slips out he’s confronted by Microchip, who has snuck in and gotten the drop on him. Unfortunately, since Red looks a lot like Archie, simple football star Moose completely misreads the situation, and knocks Micro out, giving Red the chance to escape with Veronica in tow.
And, while all of this is going on, the Punisher continues to mow down the gangsters, all until he notices that one of the killers has captured Archie, and is holding a knife to him. So, the Punisher decides to embrace the wackiness of his settings, and throws a massive cake at the gangster, blinding him long enough so that the Punisher can kill him with his bare hands. Archie is pretty scarred by this whole experience, but he finally recognizes that the Punisher is here to help. So, Archie decides to work with the Punisher. Which, takes the form of sitting in Pop’s as bait, hoping to draw the attention of the killers, and hopefully find Veronica.
So, they just sit around Pop’s, waiting to see if any mobsters show up to try and kill Archie, when something surprising happens. Betty arrives with a tape from Red, who has called Hiram with a ransom request to get Veronica back. Betty plays the tape for Punisher, Micro, and Archie, and Archie ends up noticing something odd. Veronica specifically makes a strange comment about hot air, which didn’t sound quite right to him. But, it did get him thinking about a possible location of where Veronica might be.
The Punisher and Micro aren’t quite sure what he’s trying to get at, since they aren’t familiar with the town, but Archie promises them that he’s right. However, before they can go find out what’s going on, the Punisher gets a surprise phone call. Because, shockingly, it turns out that the rumor that spread around the criminal underworld that the Punisher was in cahoots with the FBI is actually completely correct. Why the FBI would be working with a famous serial killer is a question that is not answered, but they have called to give the Punisher some information to get Red taken care of. And, with that taken care of, they head out to find Red. And, where is he?
Goddamn it, who let Sonic the Hedgehog on this site?!
Anyway, it turns out that Veronica has escaped Red’s clutches, and has been running through his warehouse containing all of these giant floats, while Red stalks her. But, right as he captures Veronica, he finds something shocking. The Punisher is waiting for him in the shadows. Red freaks out and grabs Veronica as a hostage, proudly announcing that he’s not even scared of the Punisher, because he knows that he’s too important to kill. Which is when the Punisher lets him in on the little phone call he got. See, the guy who was roadying for Josie and the Pussycats who recognized Red actually knows a fair deal about these criminals too, and he was captured in the highschool. The guy then spilled his guts, giving the FBI even more information than they though they’d get from Red, which means that he no longer has any protection.
Red obviously freaks out at this news, and is about to do something rash when Archie, Jughead, and Betty come crashing into the room, having grown too impatient to wait with Micro in the van. And, in that chaos, Red attempts to flee again, in the process incapacitating the Punisher by dropping an uninflated float onto him, submerging him in rubber. But, while this is going on, Archie ends up falling into some little cart, and crashing into Red. Which, causes his wig to fall off, and knocks him over so that his foot gets caught in a guideline for a float. Which, is what ends up leading Red to his doom. Because Archie also somehow opened up the roof of the building, causing Red’s float to carry up into the air, dragging Red with it, presumably to his death.
Holy shit! Archie and his friends just witnessed a man slowly asphyxiate in the upper atmosphere, and it was all their doing! That is some dark shit. They’re probably going to have to decompress and deal with these feelings, right? Nah, the story is over, and they couldn’t give less of a shit about Red. The Punisher frees himself from under the float, and he watches with the children as Red dies, leading Archie to just make some dumb jokes about joining Frank on his reign of terror.
And, with that, the Punisher’s mission is complete, and he’s welcomed back into Riverdale as a hero. He does have to let Archie down by telling him that he won’t be allowed to join him in his murder crusade, and that he won’t return to Riverdale to kill people for him. But, he will gladly receive a Riverdale High sweater from Miss Grundy, who is clearly sexually obsessed with Frank Castle. So, Frank and Micro leave Riverdale behind, heading to their next stop, Gotham City. And, the story ends with an absolutely amazing tease for a future story that never came to fruition, sadly.
This is a real comic! It actually exists, you can go buy it, and experience it for yourself. And, I highly recommend doing so, because there’s really no way to give it justice. It’s an absolutely insane cultural artifact, something that shouldn’t exist, let along be as fun as it actually it. When you deal with a cross-over, the real challenge is actually blending the two properties in a way that remains honest to both of them. And, weirdly enough, this comic kind of does that perfectly. It feels incredibly like a Punisher comic from the 1990’s and an Archie comic. The way that they had John Buscema and Stan Goldberg do the art for each of their characters is initially a little insane, since they’re clearly from different worlds, but it ends up blending together perfectly. Yeah, some things don’t exactly track, specifically the idea that the FBI is working with the Punisher, but by and large it’s a fully functioning story that manages to tell a funny story that still feels like something the Punisher should be in. There is no reason for Archie and the Punisher to interact with each other. It all started as a joke, and there’s absolutely no reason that it should have worked as well as it did. And yet, that’s kind of the magic of comics. Anything can happen in them, no matter how insane. There’s no budgets, to real restraints, and it’s an industry that’s always in desperate need for a boost in business, so the various companies have way more initiative to cross-over. And, sometimes that gives us things as pure and beautiful as this comic. And we should all be grateful.
“When Worlds Collide” was written by Batton Lash, penciled by John Buscema and Stan Goldberg, inked by Tom Palmer, colored by Barry Grossman, lettered by Jack Morelli, and edited by Don Daley and Freddy Mendez, 1994.
Categories: Marvel Madness