Since the debut of Archie Andrews in 1941 it seems that very little has changed in Riverdale. Archie still can’t choose between Betty or Veronica. Jughead is still eating hamburgers at Pop’s Choklit Shop. Reggie is still getting punched out by Moose for hitting on Midge. Nobody ever grows old and nobody ever graduates from high school. Although the clothes and trends may change, everything else pretty much stays the same. However, that’s all about to change. Riverdale is about to enter the world of Rainbow Dances and Pride Parades because in the pages of Veronica #202, which is due on comic stands on September 1st, 2010, Riverdale’s first openly gay teen, Kevin Keller, is transfering to Riverdale High! Yet, despite the headlines accompanied with both praise and criticisms by different groups, will Kevin’s introduction to Archie Comics really change anything, or will it just further diversify the ever growing population of Riverdale USA?
Creating a diverse cast for the Archie cast has been going on for years, but Archie Comics was a rather late bloomer in diversifying its stable of characters. It wasn’t until Chuck Clayton was introduced to Riverdale in 1974 as the first black character to the Archie comics that there was a cast member who wasn’t white. Of course even then Chuck was nothing more then a bad stereotype with his afro, hip lingo and the fact that he was good at sports (in recent years the Archie writers have turned Chuck from a jock into a cartoonist). However, over the last decade Archie Comics have gotten much better at creating more realistic minority characters. Archie has introduced Hispanic, Asian, and East Indian supporting characters to the cast. They have also tried to tie into different sub cultures and social issues that are used in a respectable fashion and not as the brunt of a gag. With Archie Comics’ quest to find a place for people of all race and cultures, they are slowly making Riverdale into a broad and realistic community. It was only a matter of time that they introduce a gay character.
In three pages released to the public late last week, Archie Comics revealed that in Veronica #202, written by long time Archie writer/artist Dan Parent, that Kevin Keller would first meet the Archie gang at Pops during a hamburger eating contest where he befriends Jughead. Being “Riverdale’s New Hot Guy,” Veronica sets her sights on the blonde haired blue eyed teenager, not realizing that he is gay. However, when Kevin comes out to Jughead and suggests that he should tell Veronica that he isn’t into girls, Jughead delights in watching Veronica make a fool out of herself by throwing herself at a gay guy and encourages Kevin to not reveal his sexual orientation to Veronica just yet. What is refreshing about Kevin’s “coming out” sequence is that it isn’t actually the point of the story. It is dealt with in a realistic manner without drama or build up as just a matter o fact trait to the character. Jughead is not surprised, nor really cares, and is far more interested in making a fool out of Veronica then Kevin’s orientation. In a statement by Dan Parent, Parent addressed this by stating:”The fact that there’s a gay character in the story isn’t a big deal to the characters. We didn’t do something with turmoil. The guy just happens to be gay, and the characters accept it, and that’s it…My daughter has openly gay kids in her high school and it’s accepted. Obviously this isn’t the case everywhere in the country. There are struggles that gay people have. But gay kids in high schools isn’t the big deal it used to be, and we want to reflect the way being gay is accepted in today’s society.”
Gay characters are hardly a new concept in comic books. Lynn Johnston made headlines when she outed long time character Lawrence in her strip For Better or For Worse in a far more dramatic sequence. Marvel Comics has Northstar while DC Comics has Obsidian. Terry Moore’s independent masterpiece Strangers in Paradise focused on the friendship between two women, Francine and Katchoo, who finally accept their love for one another. However, this is a bold move for Archie Comics, which has been considered for decades to be “children’s entertainment.” Yet over the last few years Archie has really stepped up to plate at realizing that their audience isn’t stupid. Kids are more intelligent then most comic book publishers give them credit for, and a big percentatge of Archie readers are adults who grew up on the characters. Once gimmicky and juvinile, Archie Comics has caught up to the rest of the comic world by offering multiple issue storylines, stronger continuity, deeper characterization and far more mature plots. Archie Comics have grown into a company that creates intellegent and thoughtful, yet still kid friendly, comic entertainment that both kids and parents can enjoy together If you asked me ten years ago what I thought about Archie Comics I’d had told you it was something I simply read as a kid but today I currently buy every Archie Comic title offered by the company. The characters are still the same that I loved as a kid, but with a fresh approach that I can enjoy as an adult and still clean and wholesome enough for me to give to a kid. After getting through the stack of superhero, crime and horror comic books I read on a weekly basis, its good to kick back and catch up with Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica and the gang. BTW – for those who are wondering, I’m a Veronica guy. Deffinatly Veronica.
So, with the strong reputation for moralistic storytelling, Archie isn’t about to go too deep over the edge with Kevin Keller. This isn’t being written by Garth Ennis and it isn’t going to be like Brokeback Mountain. Just as you’ve never seen Archie and Veronica doing the nasty, it is doubtfull that your kids will be opening an Archie Comic and seeing Kevin coming on to Reggie or engaging in anal sex with Jughead. It just isn’t going to happen.
I applaud Dan Parent and the Archie team for the creation of Kevin Keller. However, don’t for a second think that he’ll be brought out for every book Archie characters appear in. Just like the rest of Archie’s expanding cast, he’ll be brought out only when needed and probably used only sparingly, eventually fading as nothing more then a noteworthy oddity in the Archieverse. But all the conservative parent and religious groups who’s fears that Archie Comics have become “immoral” and that reading them will “turn their kids gay” are seriously going to have to calm down. Pick up a copy of The Boys if you want to find out the deffinition of “immoral”, and if your kids turn gay after reading an Archie Comic then they were already gay to begin with. Kevin Keller only offers them a postive gay character that they can relate to and isn’t wrapped up in negative stereotypes. Kevin Keller is gay and he’ll be hanging out at Riverdale High for a while. Jughead accepted him. You are going to have to too.