Fernando Ruiz and Alex de Campi’s gleeful, maniacal crossover does right by both its sweet-hearted teenagers and its murderous alien.

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Content Note: This essay contains cartoonish but violent and gory imagery.

Fair Warning: This essay will contain spoilers for Archie vs. Predator.

On paper, Archie vs. Predator shouldn’t work. The lovable Riverdale gang’s adventures and the notoriously sadistic alien’s hunts are so far apart that combining them in any fashion seems ill-advised, with potential results leaning closer to “dreadful mash-up t-shirt” than “thrilling, hilarious comic miniseries.” Yet Archie vs. Predator works. Penciller Fernando Ruiz (Life with Archie) and writer Alex de Campi (No Mercy) crafted an action-packed, morbidly funny comic. The key to their success is how thoroughly they blended two very different storytelling styles. This is not an Archie comic that has a Predator sporadically popping up, nor is it a Predator comic where prey just happens to be Archie, Betty and Veronica. It’s a romantic farce whose players include a teenage Predator head over heels in love, a relentless action comic that always has time for a joke. Archie vs. Predator tells both a damn good Archie story and a darn fine Predator tale, one whose creators didn’t break their co-workers’ trust helping a slimy friend. Even acknowledging Archie’s other weird crossovers – with the Punisher, with the cast of Glee and with Adam West’s Batman amongst others, there’s nothing quite like Archie vs. Predator.

One of illustrator Fernando Ruiz’s key challenges was designing a Predator who maintained the monster’s iconic look while belonging to the same visual world as the Riverdale gang. Ruiz’s Predator is streamlined. It’s more important that his helmet, plasmacaster and wrist blades are clean and clear than it is to see every last detail on every last piece of his gear. Consider this page, where the Predator leaps into battle:

Ruiz’s Predator is definitely more cartoony than his peers, particularly once his helmet comes off. This not only helps him fit in better with Archie and company look-wise, it allows him to be far more expressive than Predators usually are. There are moments in Archie vs. Predator where the big game hunting alien with a penchant for tearing people’s spines out by their heads looks downright adorable – see here, where he ends up with an unexpected token from one of the girls he’s crushing on:

The Predator dons Betty’s scrunchie for the remainder of the comic. It’s both delightful and unsettling. Per the character design notes in the Archie vs. Predator trade, “the cuter the Predator is, the more disturbing he becomes.”  Teenager with massive crushes though he may be, he’s still a Predator. When he kills, he does his cinematic predecessors proud:

With it comes to Archie vs. Predator’s writing, it would be accurate to just say “Alex de Campi is brilliant and evil, and we are all in her debt.” But that’s neither fun nor particularly informative. De Campi repeatedly nods to the first Predator film in her dialogue and her action scenes, but she’s not regurgitating its iconic moments for cheap thrills. She creates new context for everything from Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers’ infamous ultra-muscled handshake/arm wrestling match to Jesse Ventura’s boast that he’s a “sexual tyrannosaurus” – in Archie vs. Predator, they aren’t the words of a macho commando, but of a deeply obnoxious teenager:

With the new situations she builds her Predator shout-outs into, de Campi pays homage without bogging the book down in nostalgia. Her conversations flow wonderfully, whether they’re a melodramatic clash between Betty and Veronica over Archie or Kevin Keller’s dad, an army Colonel, briefing the Gang on just what they’re facing. Her story structure is swift and efficient but doesn’t forget to breathe. Four issues of nothing but the Predator butchering everyone in Riverdale would see shock quickly give way to boredom and frustration. De Campi takes time to let the Riverdale gang recuperate, to let a hint of normality creep back into their lives before the Predator strikes and plunges everything back into chaos. Nothing gets between Jughead and food, not even an alien on a murderous rampage.

But de Campi’s greatest accomplishment as a writer in Archie vs. Predator is her world building and character work. Her Riverdale is recognizably Riverdale, but everyone is at least a little bit evil. In a few cases it’s something fairly small – Archie, otherwise his usual sweet self, is obliviously callous, bouncing between Betty and Veronica within literal seconds and leaving the other in tears. Other times, it’s something far more dramatic – Sabrina the Teenage Witch might be worshiping Cthulhu, and that’s the least nefarious thing she does. And sometimes it’s something in the background that you have to watch for, only to be amazed when you realize what you’re seeing:

Nothing gets between Jughead and food, not even a displaced eyeball and stray brain matter. Make no mistake, the Riverdale gang still care deeply about each other, and they’re still mostly good kids, but they live in the sort of universe where a CIA operative would manipulate his best friend into assaulting a foreign country under false pretenses. It’s a world where everything is cranked to eleven, where a teenage Predator can develop a gargantuan crush on both Betty and Veronica and tie up his space hair with Betty’s lucky scrunchie. It’s a world where an Archie comic can have an ending that stands proudly with the best and most brutally ironic conclusions to EC’s legendary horror comics. From start to finish Archie vs. Predator is a work of love, a grand, anarchic tribute to some of comics’ favorite teenagers and one of science fiction’s favorite aliens. It’s a work to be celebrated, and it demands to be read.