You’ve probably heard that Archie Andrews, the red-headed teenager who’s had his own comics since the 1940s, is going to be killed off. It’s more accurate to say that the versions of Archie in one of his comic books, Life With Archie, are going to die, while the rest will live on.
From 1958 to 1991, Life With Archie was a book that featured longer, more dramatic stories featuring Archie and friends in different scenarios: as a sort of “Scooby Gang” who foiled thieves and ghosts, as secret agents, and even as superheroes. The book was revived in 2010 and focuses solely on a grown-up Archie in two different post-university universes: one in which he married Betty, and another in which he married Veronica. In these comics, things aren’t as light as the Archie comics of yore: everyone is affected by the recession (except Veronica, of course), Archie’s career isn’t going anywhere, and there’s a lot of “am I with the person I’m supposed to be with?” angst. It’s more soap operatic than your typical Archie fare.
In both universes, Archie will die while trying to stop a stalker from shooting Kevin Keller, a relatively recently-added character who’s a senator and openly gay. Archie may not have dress sense (he’s an adult now, and he’s wearing high-top sneakers with a suit), but he more than makes up for it by trying to do the right thing, even if it costs him his life.
This is pretty dark stuff for Archie comics, but it’s not the first time that Archie’s been in the line of fire. For that, you have to go back about 20 years to August 1994, when Archie Comics and Marvel Comics took a joke suggestion and made it real with the release of one of the most unlikely cross-publishing crossovers in comics: Archie Meets the Punisher (as released by Archie Comics), a.k.a. The Punisher Meets Archie (as released by Marvel):
Click on the image to see the covers at full size.
You can be forgiven if you haven’t heard of The Punisher:
Introduced in 1974 in The Amazing Spider-Man #129, the Punisher is Frank Castle (born Castiglione), a vigilante who’s driven by the death of his family in a mob shootout to wage a one-man war on organized crime. He was after Spider-Man, who’d been framed for the murder of Norman Osborn, his friend Harry Osborn’s father. Unlike most characters in books approved by the Comics Code Authority, the Punisher was a vicious, remorseless killer had no qualms about threats, brutality, coercion or torture. He’d later realize that Spider-Man was innocent, and would go on to team up with characters like Captain America and Daredevil, as a sort of dark foil. Given the amount of attention that Marvel’s more obscure characters have been getting on movie and TV screens — Sif in the Thor movies and Agents of SHIELD, Thanos at the end of the Avengers movie, Bolivar Trask, Blink, and Spyke in X-Men: Days of Future Past, and all of the Guardians of the Galaxy — you’d think that the Punisher, a guy without powers but a helluva lot of guns, would find a place in the present-day Marvel Cinematic Universe (he’s been featured in movies that are better forgotten).
As one of the early brooding anti-heroes in comics, and thanks to the success of 1980s “grim and gritty” comic series like the 1982 Wolverine series and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, the Punisher became a hot comic in the hyperviolent, Wolverine/Batman-wannabe comics of the 1990s. So an Archie cross-over was inevitable!
Archie Meets the Punisher/The Punisher Meets Archie opens with “Red”, a notorious drug dealer with more than a passing resemblance to Archie (you know where this is going already, don’t you?), looking for a place to lay low. Where better than the Archie comics setting of Riverdale, the last, nicest small town in America?
When he arrives in Riverdale, Red gets chummy with the richest man in town, who just happens to be Veronica’s dad, Mr. Lodge. Lodge introduces Red to his daughter, who’s taken aback by his resemblance to her sort-of-boyfriend:
Earlier, Archie had screwed up a date with Veronica. She sees an opportunity to make him jealous and invites Red as her date to the school dance. The comic and everyone in it decide to ignore the age difference between the two.
Meanwhile, the Punisher and his hacker/technician sidekick, Microchip (I know, I know…), have followed Red to Riverdale. Normally, the Punisher would simply kill Red, but the feds have cut a deal with him: he’s to capture Red alive, as he’s got valuable information about the drug trade on the entire east coast. They walk about town looking for clues of his whereabouts, noting how different Riverdale is from their usual grim and gritty surroundings:
Jughead and Archie are at Pop Tate’s Chok’lit Shoppe, where Archie is drowning his sorrows (in milkshakes, of course) over not going to the dance with either Betty or Veronica. Men claiming to be federal agents step into the shop — they’re really after Red, presumably to make sure that he doesn’t squeal. They hustle Archie and Jughead into their car…
A high-speed chase and shootout ensues, with Archie and Jughead diving out of the car before it crashes. The Punisher, thinking he’s got his quarry, takes a closer look and realizes that he hasn’t captured Red, just some high school kid who looks a lot like him. At this point, we’re given this panel, which summarizes the entire comic:
There’s another shootout between the Punisher and the fake g-men, and Archie and Jughead use this opportunity to escape and make their way to the dance. Punisher discovers that the fake g-men were on their way to the dance to kill Red, so he too heads there.
We jump to the dance, where we find Red, Archie, and hit men dressed up as caterers. Enter the Punisher, and along with him, the expected mayhem. That’s not enough to stop Riverdale’s resident nerd, Dilton Doiley, from providing a scientific observation:
Red kidnaps Veronica and escapes in the fracas, and Archie and the Punisher properly meet:
When two titular characters get together like this in the comics, it means only one thing: team-up! Our heroes set up a base of operations in Pop’s Chok’lit Shoppe. Seeing that the Punisher has a war journal, Archie decides to start one too:
Putting their minds together, the Punisher duo and the Archie gang figure out where Red is holding Veronica. The Punisher also receives some interesting information…
…and he reveals it when they confront Red: one of the gunmen at the dance has the same information that Red does. The Punisher no longer has to bring in Red alive!
If this were a Punisher comic, dealing with Red would be a simple matter of shooting him many, many, many times. Since this is an Archie comic, it’s Archie who bumbles and saves the day, bumping into Red and causing him to be lashed to a large hot air balloon:
With justice served, the Punisher duo and Riverdale gang say their goodbyes, and we’re left with the possibility of another Marvel/Archie crossover:
You can see a more complete version of Archie Meets The Punisher/The Punisher Meets Archie on Scans Daily.