'Archie Vs. Predator' #1 doesn't fall prey to one-off gag

Well, Archie Meets The Punisher no longer seems that weird of an intercompany crossover, does it?

In Archie Vs. Predator, the unstoppable killing machine of the sci-fi horror franchise that's previously taken on such comic book tough guys as Batman, Tarzan and Judge Dredd sets his triangular laser sighting mechanism on all-American teen Archie Andrews.

The title, and the premise it suggests, is this comic's very best gag. Really, the only thing funnier than the thought of an Archie vs. Predator miniseries is knowing that it actually exists.

But is there anything to it, beyond the central joke that' so wonderfully told on artist Fernando Ruiz's cover to the first issue?

Surprisingly, yes.

The genius of director John McTiernan's 1987 Predator -- probably not a phrase you read too often, is it? — is its simple yet inspired premise. There's a big, scary alien creature that hunts humans the same way we hunt animals, with advanced weaponry that gives it the same unfair advantage we so frequently enjoy. The film didn't give much background on the alien, and thus it and its kind have always been fairly flexible. You can replace the prey/protagonists and the setting of the film with pretty much any characters and any location, and it still works. While none of the other Predator films have been all that good, Dark Horse has been telling Predator stories of varying quality for about 25 years now.

It's early yet, but it sure seems like this could be one of the better ones.

That is, in large part, because writer Alex de Campi, penciler Fernando Ruiz and inker Rich Koslowski play the absurd premise pretty straight. Rather than offering a more mature, more sophisticated, more realistic style of storytelling or artwork — as in Archie Comics' Afterlife With Archie, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina or the new Dark Circle line — this is written as a PG-rated gag comic in the Archie tradition, and drawn in the house style.

It just so happens that a Predator alien is stalking the gang from Riverdale, and so it reads as if the Predator isn't invading Earth so much as he's invading Archie Comics, bringing with him the expected notes from his own franchise and the requisite gore and violence ... limited to a few panels in this issue, but, again, it's still early days (and man, blood-dripping, dismembered corpses dangling from a jungle tree look infinitely more disturbing in Archie house style than similar sights look in, say, Francesco Francavilla's more realistically rendered Afterlife series).

The plot is fairly banal, and a lot of the jokes beyond the title's very existence are fairly forced. Jughead wins a luxury beach vacation to the tropical Los Perdidos Resort for what appears to be all of Riverdale High School. The teens enjoy their spring break vacation, despite rumors of a jaguar killing those who wander off into the jungle, and Cheryl and Jason Blossom's attempts to make their lives miserable.

A fashion show to determine who is the best-dressed girl ends in bloodshed, however, when Veronica and Betty tear one another's already-skimpy clothes to rags, and clumsy Archie accidentally bloodies Betty's nose.

Watching from off-panel, through infrared eyes, is the Predator. He must have liked what he saw, as he follows the kids back home to Riverdale.

Perhaps he was tempted by the ferocious fighting spirit of Betty and Veronica. Or maybe he has a crush on one of the girls. Or his Predator bros dared him to collect the skulls of the least-likely comics combatants they could think of. Or, like Betty and Veronica, Predator fell for Archiekins, and this love triangle is about to become even more complicated.

I have no idea, really, but I really look forward to finding out.

As an added surprise, the last page of the comic includes a 12-panel bonus crossover, "Sabrina Meets Hellboy," written by De Campi and drawn by Sabrina artist Robert Hack.

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