The explosive, convoluted Marvel universe and the placid, permanently teenage Archie universe are two of the longest-lasting institutions in comics — but they’ve rarely crossed over with one another. Other than the infamous 1994 one-issue story Archie Meets the Punisher (no, seriously, that’s a real thing), Marvel has rarely acknowledged Archie, and vice versa. Until now. Warning: Fairly minor Avengers: Age of Ultron spoilers ahead (but don’t worry, no Archie spoilers).
Early on in the latest mighty Marvel movie, there’s a moment that might have you scratching your head. Tony Stark talks to Bruce Banner (y’know, the guy who turns into the Hulk) about how Bruce constantly has to have “Veronica” looking over his shoulder. Who is this Veronica, and why is she peeping at the Hulk? we are left asking. In a subsequent action sequence, we get our answer. After the Hulk starts rampaging through a city, Tony is tasked with stopping the green guy’s path of destruction. To do so, he enacts series of emergency protocols (including delivery of a Hulk-sized containment cell and activation of a suit of extra-big Iron Man armor) that he collectively refers to as “Veronica.”* Punching ensues.
But what does it all mean? One might assume Veronica is a weapon used in Marvel’s comics, or that it’s some reference to a Marvel character. Nope! It’s an Archie Comics joke. You see, Bruce Banner’s usual love interest is Betty Ross (played by Liv Tyler in The Incredible Hulk, the only solo Hulk outing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe). In Archie stories, one of Archie’s perpetual female suitors is the sweet, kind Betty Cooper. Her rival is the mean, condescending Veronica Lodge. So, for the movie version of the Hulk, the opposite of Betty ... is Veronica.
Writer-director Joss Whedon has confirmed that this is, indeed, the joke. We reached out to Archie Comics for an official statement about this very important plot point. "What an honor to get such a hat tip in what's sure to be the biggest film of the year! It's really just a testament to Archie's continued place at the forefront of pop culture," Jon Goldwater, Archie Comics publisher and CEO, told us. "It's also proof Joss Whedon has great taste in female comic heroes. You can't top Betty and Veronica."
No word on whether Tony Stark reads Archie comics during his downtime on the Quinjet. Tony, seriously, there’s no shame in it: Archie stories have gotten really good lately!
*A previous version of this article said "Veronica" only referred to the extra-big Iron Man armor.