When I talk to non-comic reading friends about comics, one thing I like to mention to mess with them is that Archie Meets the Punisher is a thing that happened. That always seems to get a little bit of a reaction out of them, but not as much as my claims that it was actually quite good! The usual follow-up to that is, “How could that possibly be good?” and it hits me as a loaded question. There are different reasons why it works so well, but it wasn’t for years until I found out the perfect way to explain it to the uninitiated.
Archie Meets the Punisher came out in 1994, just prior to the explosion of Marvel/DC crossovers that we’d see throughout the era. The Archie and Marvel camps were friendly with each other and there was a joke going back and forth that there should be a crossover where Riverdale becomes a darker and more violent place and Archie becomes a vigilante after his family is killed. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but writer Batton Lash came up with an outline that pleasantly surprised everyone involved and they moved forward with it.
Many crossovers are meant to be a look at the similarities and differences between the two parties involved. This book is less about the former and very much about the latter. On one hand, we have Archie Andrews, the optimistic and corny lead character in a town where the sun is always shining and the biggest tragedy is the decision over which hot girlfriend he’s going to ask out on any given night. Then you have Frank Castle, the dead-inside Vietnam veteran whose family was murdered by the mob, leading him to dedicate his entire being to showing no mercy to the criminal element. Granted, these are still the days when Marvel and DC weren’t overly violent, even in murderer anti-hero comics, and the only blood you’d see was a shadowy spray of black with no shot of the wound, but it’s still entirely messed up to do a story that mixes these two very, very different characters.