I know, right? It’s unbelievable. I’m back with another article in the same month! I’m not even spouting off some wild excuse as to my tardiness! Will wonders never cease? Why, you ask? Well, it’s because I truthfully felt compelled to. No. I took all of the appropriate medications, with the proper doses. (At least I think I did.) I really did feel like I was supposed to do this somehow. That’s when the realization hit me, this will soon be the anniversary of my stepfather’s death. My subconscious must have been letting me know. You see, my spepdad and the character known as the Shield are synonymous to me.
Why? Because he was the one who bought me my first Impact comic, the Shield action figure, and even purchased every other single issue from the Impact line for me. And when he was taken from this world, all of these things meant even more to me. He protected me, cared for me, and made me believe in a fatherly love that I until then had never known. He was my personal superhero. In my heart, he was the Shield. Not a symbol of patriotism, but a symbol to me of what a man should aspire to be. (Wipe your tears, Unspokenites. You still have an article to read.)
Our story begins as two United States military helicopters fly through the evening sky of Colorado. They are armed to the teeth and in search of their appointed target. Suddenly, they spot the enemy…..one man?! The lone figure stands defiantly in their spotlights. Wasting no time, they unleash heavy gunfire! The man runs at an incredible speed, sidestepping the bullets. He then disappears from sight. The helicopters search frantically. Just then, the Man reappears, a large boulder in his hands. He hurls it at one of them! It caves in the metal on one side and crushes the rotor, sending it spiraling to the rocky ground!
Before the pilot of the other craft can react, the Man leaps over the crashing aircraft and slams his body with incredible force into the other chopper! Tearing his way inside he knocks one of the soldiers out after he grabs for a concealed firearm. The other pilot simply smiles! He then begins laughing as he remarks how the man threw a boulder as a projectile. With the pilot smiling, the helicopter lands. The simulation has ended. The man then steps into the light. He stands clad in an armored uniform modeled after the American flag. (Well, there ya have it folks! Our tax dollars hard at work. Can you imagine if all of our troops wore this amazing armor? Of course, the question of camouflage comes to mind…….)
The strangely-armored man taps his earpiece. He asks how the exercise looked back at home base. He’s answered with resounding applause from the soldiers on the other side of the call. That is all except for one gruff-looking, old general who leaves the control room . The general appreciates the performance of the Shield armor that they have developed, it’s the man inside that he cares very little for. The original man to be called the Shield was a friend and an ally of his. That was until his mysterious disappearance in 1963. He was located by the U.S. military for a brief time during the Vietnam War before the hero took off his armor and vanished for good. Though the original Shield’s armor was extraordinary, it’s design proved impossible to duplicate.
The military however moved forward and designed an armor all their own. Now for the ideal man to wear it. No-one proved themselves more perfect for that role than the general’s own son, Lieutenant Joseph Higgins. Too perfect in his father’s eyes. That’s when Sergeant Higgins set up a falsified report in order to have his own son courtmartialed and demoted! This would show him humility and make him more easy to control! (Wow! The Shield’s father is one piece of work! My genetic father was a military man himself. He’s damn near this evil too. But while Joe gets bulletproof armor, I get therapy and meds. Ah. To live in the comic book world!)
Later, Joe takes some much-needed time off and decides to visit his mother. She talks to him a bit about her divorce with his father and almost slips up and begins to talk about his courtmartialing. Feeling discouraged, he leaves her office and returns to his room on base. (I bet! Maybe his mom would like to bring up the death of a beloved childhood pet while they’re hanging out!) While there, he runs over the series of events that brought him to where he is now in life. Very little time passes before he’s on the move again. Upon leaving his room, he runs into his bestfriend. The two catch up a bit before they take a jeep together to a different part of the large military installation. At this exact moment, Joe’s father wraps up a secret meeting in his office with a tall, shadowy man. Sergeant Higgins demands that the man before him take his son out of the picture! With very little to say, the man turns. As light falls upon him, it is revealed that he is in fact more machine than man at all! This cybernetic monstrosity is called Mann-X and he leaves the office driven by his new orders and ready to carry them out!
Time has passed and Joe now finds himself standing on the same ground that he fought against the copters earlier. He waits, encased in his powerful Shield armor, to perform in another combat test. This test however is to impress even more important men in the government. This simulation must go off without a hitch. Jets soar through the skies towards the hero, ready for a fight. Joe takes in a deep breath and tells himself that he must execute this maneuver perfectly. He must make his father proud. (Me thinks Joe needs a wake-up call about “dear old daddy”. The guy makes the Devil look like Elmo!) But suddenly, the jets turn and veer away from him! Confused, the Shield contacts the control team. They reply that the jets have been recalled because something strange has been picked up on radar. Before he can question further, a huge, armored fist sends him sailing through the air!
As Mann-X approaches the downed Shield, he says that he doesn’t want to hurt him, just give up the armor. Shield’s reply is that if he’s so interested in the armor, maybe he should show this mystery man just what it’s capable of! A furious fistfight ensues and Mann-X replies that he knows what the Shield armor can do, he’s the one who built it! (Didn’t see that coming, did ya? I mean, who wouldn’t trust the United States government? Fools, that’s who!) Shocked but determined, Joe waits until Mann-X gets closer and then electrifies his armor! The sudden jolt knocks the cyborg for a loop, dropping him momentarily to the ground! The Shield knows that this will not be enough, so he sprints into a military garage. An enraged Mann-X enters the building soon after but is met by a surprise attack! The Shield attaches powerful jumper cables to the man/machine’s armor, sending a powerful jolt of electricity into his armor! Mann-X drops, defeated!
Soldiers surround Mann-X and prepare to take him into custody while the Shield is approached by the U.S. government brass. Surprisingly, though the test went badly off the rails, they were nonetheless extremely impressed! They shake his hand and leave. Just then, Mann-X springs to life! He tosses soldiers as if they’re mere ragdolls and breaks through a garage wall, escaping into the night! The Shield tries to follow the villain, but is stopped by his father. The general states that though he’s impressed others this day, the intruder has escaped. He then takes his leave. Joe removes his headpiece and sits down. He speaks to his friend. The realization has come that no matter what he does in life, it’ll never be enough for his father. He lowers his head in shame. (Preaching to the choir here, Joe. I know that feeling well. It’s nice how the Shield wants to impress his unworthy dad, but screw that guy! Who needs him? At least he has a great mom…..um…..wait.)
This article is dedicated in the memory of my stepdad, Bob Metz. You always wanted me to show off my knack for writing. I hope this story makes you proud. You are still a true inspiration to me and I will always love you. You will always be my superhero. Rest in peace.
Hey, folks! I hope you have enjoyed the last couple of weeks as Sparky Ryan brought you the history of the Marvel UK incursion into the states from the early 90’s. I had a great time with some of those books back in the day, and his work was a great trip down memory lane, but now your good 90’s comics aficionado and pal Dean Compton is back, and I am back just in time for one of my favorite elements of this blog…THE SUPER BLOG TEAM UP!!!!!
If you weren’t around last time or haven’t had the chance to look at the Super Blog Team Up subpage here, the SBTU (I ain’t gonna keep typing that out folks; I ain’t getting paid by the word. Hell, I ain’t getting paid at all!) is a quarterly gathering of sorts where many blogs publish on the same day about the same topic. At the bottom of my random meanderings, make sure you click the links and take a gander at what all the great folks have shared in SBTU. We all work really hard, and we all appreciate every view and comment we get. Except for the ones from spammers. It’s really sad how excited I will get when I get a notification for a comment, only to find it is poorly written spam imploring me to spend some money on something to filter out spam comments. As an aside to this aside, I think I’d like spam comments better if their grammar was correct.
But I have digressed so far that one might believe this not to be a blog about comic books at all! You’d be sorely mistaken! As I was saying about SBTU, the concept is that all of these blogs look at the same subject on the same day. This time, the subject is Team Up, Tear Down, and from the second I heard that, I could not help but think of the team up that never should have happened, but somehow tore down every preconceived notion one would have about this comic working or being good. I am talking about the time comic book hell froze over. I am talking about Punisher Meets Archie…
The dread was punctuated with the entire “why are they doing this?/oh my god, they’re ruining everything/they don’t know what they’re doing” mentality that seems to permeate every fanboy’s good sense at some point. This time, though, our cynical malaise seemed justified (to the max, as we would say in the 90’s) because how could this be readable, let alone good? I mean, it’s Punisher Meets Archie, for Christ’s sake!
The answer to the question of how could it be readable or good can be found on the credits page:
Indeed, that is the fine talent of the late John Buscema and the late Stan Goldberg combined with one of the best inkers of all time, Tom Palmer, to bring you this tale. You see, the first element of this endeavor that would have doomed it to disaster, would have been seeing the character drawn in a style dichotomous to what we usually see with them. Punisher in the Archie style would have made all the Punisher fans angrier than Hulk driving a compact car while he is stuck in rush hour traffic. Now try getting that image out of your head!
Conversely, seeing Archie done up all grim and gritty would have made Archie fans feel angry and betrayed as well. I’d come with some metaphor or simile for the anger of Archie fans, but based on their choice of comic fare, I am unsure that they get angry. I mean, nothing in that world can’t be solved with just a waltz down to the choklit shop, right?
So that solved one problem, but the elephant in the room would have to be how one would mesh such strikingly disparate worlds without compromising the integrity of either, or in Punisher’s case, without compromising what was left of the integrity of an emotionless and psychopathic mass murderer who was being used as a guest in seemingly every book at Marvel to increase sales. We talked about his ubiquity here at The Unspoken Decade when we covered Darkhawk. I mean, who could possibly bridge this chasm?
According to both of the publishers involved, enter Batton Lash:
Batton Lash concocted a premise that would work for both universes, and the only caveat that any Punisher fan might have a quarrel with is the fact that Punisher is working with the feds in order to bring in our villain, and he has agreed to bring this quarry in alive.
Being the gigantic Punisher fan I am, I understand their point. Frank Castle ain’t known for playing nice with the feds. It’s basically the real world equivalent of teaming up Kruschev and Kennedy. That’s something that just won’t and should not work; however, if one thinks about it, Punisher is always compromising. I have seen numerous Punisher team-ups with Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Captain America where Castle agrees not to kill anyone (one example being The Omega Effect). I think too often, folks think Punisher=murderer, and while yes, he is indeed a serial killer, what one should really think is Punisher=Force of Nature. While Punisher would greatly prefer to murder his adversaries, it is much more important for him to achieve his goals. This means making temporary alliances, such as the ones I named earlier (or even the times he makes temporary alliances with criminals, such as in Punisher: P.O.V. ) in order to get done whatever it is that Punisher needs to get done at that time. That’s what makes him a force of nature to me; he allows nothing, not even compromise, to stop his forward progress.
So to me, this isn’t a big deal, although again, I get why some Punisher fans cannot sign off on it.
The twist of the story, though, is almost 100% an Archie gag, and man, it is a good one.
So Punisher heads for Riverdale in search of the mookiest doppelgänger in the history of mooks, doppelgänger, and mooky doppelgängers. Of course, this leads to trouble due to our mook’s resemblance to Archie. Also, call Guinness and let them know I just set the record for more uses of mook in a paragraph.
Could it really end this quickly? Nope. This is a crossover folks, and you don’t need ‘ol Dean Compton to let you know that crossovers can’t end this fast, especially not when there are 48 PAGES! NO ADS! to fill! So in what is the biggest swerve since Vince Russo ran WCW (WARNING: WRESTLING JOKE), Archie was only shot by a water gun. In true Archie fashion, though, this instance leads him into a disagreement with Veronica!
So, in true Archie fashion, having already asked one of the ladies out, Archie goes with his second choice, Betty.
I feel really badly for Betty here; who likes being second best? Betty is a pretty lady; she’s nice, she’s funny, and she’s smart. Why does she just wait for Archie to call her AFTER he has ruined his chances with Veronica? Betty should play second fiddle to no one, and neither should anyone reading this. Learn from Betty, folks!
Punisher in the meantime, heads for Riverdale, very unaware of it and very prepared for it to be a cesspool. Even his super genius partner, Microchip, apparently has never heard of Riverdale, despite it being a suburb of New York and how, with a name like Microchip, he is required to know EVERYTHING. That’s one of the few things I learned from 80’s movies.
Of course, it takes little time for Archie’s doppelgänger to insert himself into Archie’s circle in Riverdale, and of course, what would an Archie comic be without Veronica (or possibly Betty) making Archie jealous via the most emotionally devastating weapon in the history of mankind:
THE DATE WITH ANOTHER GUY!
Emily and I often watch this show, American Greed, on CNBC that focuses on how folks scam rich people, and we both find it shocking how easy rich folks get scammed. Like, it seems that the only thing required to scam a rich person is to know one and to then ask them for money.
Mr. Lodge is no exception, as it seems that Melvin just SHOWS UP and tells him of his business exploits, and Lodge cannot unlock all of his safes and vaults fast enough. Also, doesn’t it seem like acquiring a business would be small potatoes to Mr. Lodge?
Speaking of safes and vaults, wouldn’t you like to see Uncle Scrooge and Mr. Lodge have a crossover? I have seen Mr. Lodge do regular swimming in one of those old timey swimsuits that are always hilarious, but I bet he could swim though coins just like Uncle Scrooge.
BAM! There’s the premise! They can have a coin swimming race. You. Yes, you. Call Archie and Disney and let them know about my idea and tell them to GET IT BOOKED.
Still, fun times are happening, at least until Punisher shows up and has the emo Punisher moment he always has that we all love him for. It is the one shred of humanity that makes us feel compassion for everyone’s favorite skull-chested psychopath…
Punisher’s last shred of humanity causes him to pass over a malt, which would have led him to those guys in the corner, something I believe would cause even Riverdale denizens to take notice. Alas, Pop’s dedication to the dollar and fear of government overrides his sense of danger, and those shadow punks take Archie, who is apparently upset that his second choice for a date dared not to wait for him to see if he called her. Well, Archie is about to have bigger troubles anyhow.
I wonder what Pops is hiding that he doesn’t want to be audited. Maybe Riverdale ain’t so squeaky clean after all!
While Archie’s life is in danger, the faux Archie shows up at the dance with Veronica. He quickly shows the biggest difference between him and Archie is that he’s such a giant dick that perennial dick Reggie Mantle is put off by him. If Reggie Mantle thinks you’re a creep, you must be a creep on a galaxy level. Or at the very least, the type of person Punisher likes to kill catch for the feds.
Man, Betty is awesome. She’s the only one who wonders where Archie is and what’s going on. Archie is making our crossover complete, as Punisher follows the criminals who kidnapped him. Get ready Archie, because you are about to meet The Punisher.
Yes, Archie, The Punisher.
That may be the image that makes the book. Also, Punisher would probably have had an easier time differentiating Melvin and Archie if he had, you know, OPENED HIS EYES.
Of course, no matter how ominous that panel may look, Punisher at some point decides that pointing a gun is just a smidge safer if one opens their eyes, and he realizes that Archie is not his prey.
Archie manages to get away with an assist from his pal Jughead, which I love. In the face of imminent death, Jughead and Archie are best friends, and he finds a way to help his pal. We’d all like to be that person; perhaps you can find the Jughead in you. I have done so via massive consumption of fast food. You’ll have to find your own path, however.
For real though, this is an incident that exemplifies what I spoke of when I sad that Batton Lash showed us these characters together without violating the integrity of either set of characters, and this little bit with Jughead helping Archie speaks volumes to that.
Archie does exactly what America’s favorite whitebread teen would do, or also what most sane folks would do, and that is telling the cops that Punisher is loose in Riverdale and that some mob guys have kidnapped him.
Hopefully, you have not been as big an idiot as Mr. Andrews has when he has called the police in the past.
Why are Archie and Jughead winking like they got over on the cops? I mean, not only are the cops obviously not going to help, but you asked them for help. You didn’t fool anyone.
I do enjoy the touch here where Archie’s concern is for his parents, not himself. Again, Lash shows us Archie’s character simply and naturally.
Also, that is the worst undercover cop ever. He looks like every stranger I was warned about in elementary school, and he would fool no one into believing he is not with the fuzz.
Of course, once we see Punisher interact with Riverdale’s finest, we see that maybe they don’t know much about policing, possibly because they have no crime.
Riverdale cops don’t put up with anything. They hadn’t even run the tags and they were already demanding that Microchip get out of the van! Where’s Occupy Riverdale to deal with this?
Archie goes to the dance where his doppelgänger is, and that’s when we see some gunplay and some great infiltration skill displayed by Punisher. Also, Archie and his pals are sharp, except for Jughead, who has more courage than brains, it seems.
Punisher gets emo again during his infiltration of the school, and he also stumbles upon the reason that Betty tolerates so much from Archie. Graffiti.
Melvin proves he is not Archie in another way, but the really fun thing is the little Easter Eggs stuck in everywhere. One of my favorites is a conversation between Katy Keene and Millie the Model!
But let’s not make light of Veronica sticking up for herself, or the cluelessness of Mr. Weatherbee. How can folks really confuse this guy for Archie once they are up close?
Punisher’s infiltration works like a charm, maybe too charming, as Miss Grundy basically offers to marry Frank Castle on the spot, while Flutesnoot gives Castle the cover he needs to continue to monitor this dance, as Riverdale High is expecting a new gym teacher.
Also, the caterers now have guns and are after Melvin, but you’ll have to read that to find out how that happens; I can’t give it all to you, folks!
Miss Grundy knows what she wants when she sees it! You have got to like that! Miss Grundy is also a woman who would never let you down and definitely carry her fair share in a relationship (probably more, as my beloved Emily does. Check out some of her work under the Archives!)
Punisher and Archie finally find themselves able to sort out their identity crisis, and they pool their resources, which leads to what s, in my mind, the funniest moment in the book. Archie’s War Journal. To think of it is to chuckle, but to read it is to laugh until one’s ribs ache.
There’s lots more, but if I keep going, I am just going to wind up ruining the entire book for you! The last image I shall leave you with is one of the best Easter Eggs in the book, that being the Spider-Man/Shield crossover!
Note that I said Shield, and not S.H.I.E.L.D. Shield, for anyone who doesn’t know, is an old patriotic Archie character, and I believe he is the first patriotic superhero, predating even Marvel’s Sentinel Of Liberty, Captain America himself! At this point of the 90’s Shield had been in limbo since the end of DC’s Impact Comics line (which we will definitely be covering here at The Unspoken Decade and soon!). I don’t known when the next time after Archie Meets Punisher we would see him, but I do know it would be a while. We also have Sonic the Hedgehog, which Archie licensed and published. If memory serves, it was quite successful for quite some time, and it had appeal to multiple markets, as kids like my cousin would buy it, even though they did not care for comic books in general, because it had Sonic, Tails, and all the characters from that universe in it.
It only happens in balloon form, but it happens, kids. It totally happens.
To find out how Archie, Punisher, and the gang save the day, you’ll just have to read the rest yourself. Normally I have no qualms about spoiling comic books published twenty years ago, but in this case, I don’t want to reveal all of the magic.
There’s a true art to combining franchises that is usually done in a heavy-handed manner and appears clumsy. Take a gander at the first Aliens vs. Predator movie if you need to reminded. Actually, don’t. I don’t want to ruin movies forever for you.
In this case, the amalgamation of the Archie/Punisher universes is done so effortlessly that one almost instinctively knows that this was a lot of hard work, as nothing so slick could ever be easy. Lash, Goldberg, J. Buscema, and Palmer are to be commended over and over for taking these two wrongs and making them into something right.
I also cannot help but believe that this was the genesis for Archie publications like the Afterlife with Archie zombie stories or the recent death of Archie in Life with Archie. Hell, without this comic book, we might not even have had the adult Archie stories in Life With Archie that preceded his demise.
I think this is the first time in a long time that Archie Comics stretched what an Archie comic could be, and while it may not have paid immediate dividends, it did impact the line in the future. For Punisher, not so much, as he dove right into another crossover right after this one. In fact, despite my saying that was the last image earlier, here’s one more. Check out the rest of the Super Blog Team Up at the links under the pic, and thanks for dropping by the Unspoken Decade!