Sep 3, 2014

On The Punisher Meets Archie

On The Punisher Meets Archie

Stan Goldberg died earlier this week. He was highly accomplished in the comics industry, having had stints at Marvel twice, picking Spider-Man’s colors, and, most notably, being one of the main artists of Archie Comics. He was the main Archie artist of my generation, and for that reason, I placed him fifth on the list of the most important Archie artists ever, kind of sad that I couldn’t rank him any higher and also kind of surprised that I got comments telling me he was too high. (I will grant that there is an argument between him and Bob Bolling, but no one else right now would outrank Goldberg.) Goldberg didn’t really get all the appreciation he deserved, though he was well-respected, and even I, who had him pegged as my favorite Archie artist when I was young, eschewed him later on in favor of my older self’s tastes, gravitating as I did to the crispness of Dan DeCarlo, the motion of Harry Lucey, and the sight gags of Samm Schwartz. Goldberg’s forte was action, and he handled the two-part strips in the Archie Comics where Archie furrowed his brow a lot, played detective, and tackled a bad guy. He was the best at it, but I don’t think I can really be questioned for saying that I didn’t really read Archie in the hopes of seeing fights in them.

Which is why it may be odd that my favorite Archie comic ever was drawn by Stan G. Or half-drawn, anyway. The Punisher Meets Archie, published in 1994 and written by Batton Lash, was Marvel’s first intercompany crossover in a very long while, and was, as you may have guessed from the title, an extremely risky venture in a creative sense. There’s no reason it should have worked! The quintessential symbol of any grim and gritty movement meeting the quintessential humor strip character makes it the most disparate pairing possible without going into funny animal territory. But work it did. The Punisher came into Riverdale looking for a criminal named Melvin Jay (this book is full of Easter eggs), who looks like Archie, and hijinks ensue.

One reason it worked was because it didn’t take itself so seriously, as writer Batton Lash carefully plotted out everything so that nothing seemed out of place. Even Punisher throwing a pie at a gunman doesn’t come off as contrived.

But another reason it worked was because of the artists. John Buscema drew the Punisher parts, and (possible controversial opinion ahead) he was a significantly better storyteller in the latter half of his career than in the first, getting a much better grasp of body language and subtle facial expressions without losing the action instead of trying to mold his style into the Jack Kirby mold as he did in the 60s (it doesn’t work; it’s like Tim Duncan deciding he wanted to play like Dennis Rodman). Stan Goldberg drew the Archie parts, and this is where Goldberg is crucial — his style was always the most “Marvel” of the Archie guys, and because of that, he was able to bridge the Archie house style with Buscema’s style (which has a strong case for being the Marvel house style). Goldberg drew a lot of Archie action strips, so he was the only choice, really, to make this work.I really can’t imagine anyone else from the Archie bullpen being able to make these panels work.

Here’s how good the combination of Buscema and Goldberg was: I have no idea who drew Mel Jay. If I had to guess, I’d say they took turns, based on the situation. If I had to pick just one, I’d say Buscema, but it’s a close call.

I wish Marvel and Archie would get together and reprint this comic, in a nice oversized edition just like IDW’s been doing with the Archie artist spotlights. Stan Goldberg’s only got one “Best of” volume right now (Schwartz and Lucey each have two, while DeCarlo deservedly has four), and Stan deserves some more lasting exposure in the book market. What’s more, since The Punisher Meets Archie has been out of print for 20 years, a lot of people haven’t been exposed to it, and that’s a shame.

It’s a little heady to me that this comic, out 20 years ago, may be my second-favorite intercompany of all time (this is the first), and it’s even weirder to me that the artists have passed on. I never really appreciated either of them enough when they were active, but we fortunately live in a golden age of comics and reprints, where I can seek out their work pretty easily.

Hopefully one day we’ll get a deluxe reprint of it, to be put on a bookshelf so we can easily pull it out for the entertainment value of America’s Teen Supreme contrasting with the Quintessential Grim and Gritty Vigilante. And besides, they still owe us a sequel.

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