Summer 1994 was a memorable period in comics as it really brought back the “intercompany crossover,” where properties of different companies would join forces for a single story. Marvel and DC had done several in the 1980s, but they came to a screeching halt when Avengers/Justice League was aborted over story conflicts. But 1994 was the year that it all came back, with Batman fighting the Punisher twice and Archie also meeting the Punisher. What most people don’t realize is how interconnected the crossovers themselves were.
It all started in DC’s Batman/Punisher, where Punisher came to Gotham to fight Jigsaw, who was plotting to set Gotham’s water supply on fire. (#ComicBookPhysics.) At the time, Bruce Wayne was out of commission and Jean-Paul “Azrael” Valley was filling in the role.
The heroes slug it out and save the day, but Jigsaw escapes to plot more mayhem in Gotham. Also, it turns out that Jigsaw was secretly working with the Joker, but we’ll get back to that. The important thing to remember is that this story was in continuity, as it was later reflected in a line of dialogue in Batman #509.
Meanwhile, the Punisher left Gotham. Right around the same time, Marvel and Archie Comics published the offbeat, this-will-never-happen-again crossover Archie Meets the Punisher. This was your standard crossover fare: the Punisher and his partner, Microchip, go to Riverdale, meet Archie, and have a typical misunderstanding that becomes a team-up with the usual Archie zaniness thrown in. However, the important thing to note is that the story ends with this scene:
It’s important to note that Microchip was never seen in DC’s Batman/Punisher. He does appear in the follow-up Punisher/Batman which was published later that summer. In other words, Archie Meets the Punisher was clearly intended to be set between the two Batman-Punisher stories, and we’ve now got a clear line of events from Batman/Punisher to Punisher/Archie to Punisher/Batman.
Back at DC, the Bat-books were in the thick of the “Knightsend” crossover which saw Bruce Wayne return to reclaim the mantle of the bat from Jean-Paul Valley. After tht happened, Marvel ran its sequel to DC’s Batman/Punisher with the aforementioned Punisher/Batman (which reflected the “Knightsend” status quo and now had Bruce back in the Batman role). This story saw Jigsaw and the Joker’s team-up go public and the Punisher trying to take them down, with Batman getting caught in the middle. The story ended with a climactic fight between the heroes with Batman saving the Joker from the Punisher in the middle of a rainstorm, which is important:
Why? Because right after Punisher/Batman was published, DC launched its universe-destroying crossover Zero Hour. This story swept up almost every book being published by DC at the time and involved temporal distortions, alternate universes, and a giant wave of energy which was destroying all of reality. Anyway, the story opens with this scene:
Yep, that’s the Joker, running away in the aftermath of a rainstorm (and Batman was in pursuit a few pages later). This scene was duplicated in that month’s Batman #511 which tied into Zero Hour and continued that crazy rainstorm. In other words: yes, the opening scene of Zero Hour seemed to be a direct continuation of Punisher/Batman.
In the aggregate, the little beats and nods that tie all these comics are too much to be a coincidence. Obviously, the two Batman/Punisher crossovers are explicitly tied together, and the Archie story may just be a gag reference, but the timing and similarity of the scenes between Punisher/Batman and Zero Hour were too much to ignore. In other words, summer 1994 gave us a giant three-way crossover among Batman, Archie, and the Punisher, and all of it led to the multiversal chaos of Zero Hour which destroyed the DC Universe.
Conspiracy theorists might point to all of this and say that the pending chaos of Zero Hour caused all these interdimensional breaches and made the Punisher and Archie appear in the DC Universe. But really, what we apparently saw that summer was a “stealth” crossover the likes of which we won’t see again anytime soon. A cosmic conspiracy? Maybe. But more likely, the authors all nodded at each other and gave us what comics are supposed to give: fun.