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Monday, February 27, 2006
  Posted by Craig on 2/27/2006 10:48:00 AM :


Desert Island Comics, pt. 4

Continuing my countdown of the ten comics I want with me if I'm ever stranded on a desert isle...

The second Superman/Spider-Man crossover featuring the Parasite and Doctor Doom would have made this list, but I have a self-imposed rule that only single issue comics from my collection will be featured, not trade paperbacks. As I no longer have the original treasury edition I purchased in my youth, but rather the Crossover Classics compilation, that excellent tale was vetoed. A different crossover featuring the work of John Buscema does make the list, however. There was a time that these crossovers occurred so infrequently that they really were big events to get excited about; from the 70’s to the mid-90’s, I can recall only four that were published before an Avengers/JLA meeting was derailed for several years. From the dread 90’s to the present day, however, they have been coming out with such alarming frequency and featuring pairings less and less logical that only a handful have been memorable. Ironically (or not), the most noteworthy of these is the very issue that kicked off the wave of inter-company collaborations, certainly the most joyously illogical paring of all:

#7: The Punisher Meets Archie

This is all the grim n’ gritty you’ll find in my long boxes...

Perhaps the powers-that-be at Marvel realized that the Punisher’s fifteen minutes were about over when the idea for this project came up. Whatever the reason, it was refreshing to see they were willing to poke a finger in the collective eye of the portion of their fan base least likely to be able to take a joke: the lunatics who kept the most uninteresting character ever to sustain multiple titles alive. This one-dimensional character should never have grown beyond occasional guest star status in Spider-Man, but for some reason he nearly elbowed mutants of the comic shelves for a few years. Garth Ennis figured out that the only way to make him entertaining was to surround him with incredibly bizarre characters, but this particular comic proves that Supernatural Law (another favorite!) writer Batton Lash beat him to the punch half a decade previously.

The artists make no attempt to blend their two disparate styles, creating some incredibly strange visuals as John Buscema’s brooding Punisher frequently occupies the same panel as Stan Goldberg’s gang of innocent kids. Stare at some of the pages too long and you’ll get a headache trying to assimilate the visuals. It’s truly wonderful to behold.

The Punisher follows the trail of a drug kingpin to the small suburban town of Riverdale where he encounters Archie Andrews, who is involved with a different branch of the same case. A misunderstanding leads to a conflict between the two; after battling to a standstill, they realize they are on the same side and pool their considerable resources against their antagonist...

No, really, that’s what happens.

A mobster known as “Red Fever” who bears a striking resemblance to Archie Andrews arrives in Riverdale. Posing as the head of a pharmaceutical company, he attempts to strike up a business deal with the head of Lodge Enterprises. Lodge’s daughter Veronica, angry from an earlier mishap with Archie, decides to make the boy jealous by inviting his double to the 1950’s themed dance at the high school. Meanwhile, Archie is mistaken for his double by both the Punisher and a group of hitmen stalking the criminal. The hitmen grab Archie and his pal Jughead, taking them away in their car until the Punisher and his lame sidekick “Micro Chip” come barreling in. A scene which surely humiliated Punisher fans everywhere follows, in which Archie and Jughead outfox the vigilante and escape.

At the dance, while Red Fever puts the moves on Veronica, a roadie for the band playing the dance recognizes him and phones his underworld contacts, hoping for a reward. Archie, meanwhile, learns of Veronica’s date and Jughead leaps to the second obvious conclusion: “We’ve got to warn this guy in case the Punisher goes after him thinking he’s you, Archie!” The pair meets Betty Cooper and Reggie on their way into the dance, and the quartet begins searching for their sometimes-friend.

Following the group of hitmen who were tipped off by the roadie, the Punisher slips into a darkened part of the school on his way to the gymnasium. An eerie page shows his ominous figure in the darkened hallways of the school, a murderer walking through a deserted playground. He pauses to reflect on graffiti etched into a locker: “BC + AA”. In that single panel, the gulf separating the two protagonists can be felt yawning between them. Marvel had thirty-seven different Punisher books going at one time or another, and the best moment of characterization ever for the character comes in a crossover with Archie comics. Sigh…

A gunfight breaks out at the dance, Veronica gets kidnapped, and we witness entry #00001 in “Archie’s War Journal.” The whole gang rescues Veronica, and the final image of the Punisher shows him wearing a Riverdale sweater as he climbs into the so-called Battle Van. Priceless. Archie brags, “Y’know, I’m grim n’ gritty, too!” to which Veronica responds, “Then you should take a bath!”

Take a look at the fabulous die cut cover (one of two versions!) and you’ll see that someone thought to boost sales by labeling the comic issue no. 1. I’ve been waiting for issue 2 all these years, but no luck so far. It will probably follow my dreamed-about Alfred/Jarvis team-up.


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