So, after a long hiatus from buying any comics from Archie, I decided to take a look at the introduction of Kevin Keller, Riverdale’s first openly gay character. News of the characters introduction got quite a bit of attention back in late April, including the expected “think of the children” nonsense you usually see on the internet.
The story and art is by Dan Parent, one of the better writers and artists working at Archie these days, with inks by Rich Koslowski. It’s stylized, cartoony work that adheres to the Archie house style without being a slavish recreation of it, leaving some room for personal style. I haven’t been the target audience for an Archie comic in quite some time, so honestly, I was most surprised to open up the book and see slick paper and full-bleed artwork. It’s good work, but it took some getting used to, as subconsciously I pretty much expect an Archie comic to look like Dan DeCarlo drew it.
The story is fairly typical of Archie comedy, with Jughead deciding to prank Veronica for slighting him. Only the form the prank takes is Jughead manipulating events so that Veronica spends her time attempting to attract Kevin’s interest, which is never going to happen because Jughead knows that Kevin is gay. After twenty pages of misunderstandings amongst the cast, Veronica finally learns the truth and those who need to get a comeuppance receive theirs.
My primary curiosity about this issue was how a company perceived as so archly conservative as Archie was going to handle introducing a gay character. I had no real concern over the portrayal being offensive; the only thing that would have meant more controversy for the publisher than introducing a gay character would be introducing an offensive portrayal of a gay character. Kevin is a cute, smart boy who likes comics and can go stomach-to-stomach with Jughead in an eating competition. In other words, he’s just rounded enough to hang a story hook on to him, but bland enough to avoid controversy. I generally rankle a bit at bland, inoffensive gay characters in movies and television shows who only exist to play lip-service to diversity but are completely neutered in order to avoid making anti-gay audience members uncomfortable. But this is a comic whose primary audience is preteen girls. Even a fairly bland gay character is pretty ground-breaking, and that Parent even managed to go beyond that and make Kevin sort of appealing is praiseworthy. I’ll admit, Parent draws him a fairly snarky smirk that would be meltingly hot if it was on a real person.
What I’m especially glad to see is that my one, big fear about the way the set-up for the issue was introduced was resolved in an appropriate manner. The premise, that Jughead is using the “secret” of Kevin’s sexuality to play a prank, has the potential to be offensive if mishandled. It makes homosexuality a bit of a punchline, not an aspect of Kevin’s character. Instead, once the truth is revealed, Jughead is scolded by Kevin, and quite rightly, for using him to take advantage of Veronica in an attempt to make her look foolish. The end result is to actually drive Kevin away from Jughead and towards Veronica, ironically the opposite of Jughead’s intent.
Do I expect Kevin to stick around? It would be nice. As I said, he’s an appealing character, and is already slated to make a return appearance. But the last character to be introduced into the Archie universe and demonstrate any staying power was Cheryl Blossom, and even she took a ten year hiatus. The odds are stacked against him, but he does bring something to the Riverdale dynamic that no other character does, so even if he only survives as, inexplicably, the only gay teenager in the Archie comics world, that’s not so bad.
Also, for no good reason, this panel cracks me up: