Writer: Dan Parent
Artist: Dan Parent
In this issue’s full-length story, titled “Isn’t It Bro-mantic?,” Veronica falls head over heels for the newest guy in Riverdale, a handsome blonde guy named Kevin Kellner who has an interest in writing and, like Jughead, eating vast quantities of food. However, unknown to Veronica (but known to Jughead) and her subsequent pursuit, Kevin happens to be gay.
This is the issue and new character that Archie’s been promoting for the better part of this year, and represents a major change for the comics publisher, along with American children’s entertainment in general. Gay characters have been seen in plenty of other comics, ranging from the usual DC and Marvel superhero books to newspaper comic strips such as Alison Bechdel’s “Dykes to Watch Out For.” There’s also some gay characters in adult oriented animation (Smithers on “The Simpsons,” etc.).
However, American children’s entertainment, particularly television, has been highly reluctant to introduce openly gay characters. There’s an apparent assumption that gay characters, or homosexuality period, aren’t “suitable” for children. Thus, one’s more likely to see talking sea sponges or guys in bat-costumes beating up insane clowns (or characters stated by producers after the show’s cancellation as being “coded to be” gay) than, say, a pair of well-adjusted openly-lesbian parents. (Cartoon Network’s even gone so far as to crudely dub over use of the word “gay” in one of its foreign imports, Canadian cartoon series “6Teen”).
Additionally, American animation doesn’t seem to do a very good job in writing gay characters in animation aimed at adults. Gay characters tend to be either deeply closeted (Smithers) or the sort of effeminate/flamboyant stereotypes (or butch ones, if lesbian) one hasn’t seen in live-action productions since the 70s. Non-American-made entertainment and entertainment aimed at teenagers don’t seem to have such issues, however; Canada’s highly regarded “Degrassi” series have shown several prominent gay characters, for example.
Thus, seeing Archie, a comic aimed at younger readers and often considered by many as one of the most conservative American comic companies, introduce a gay character is quite a step forward. Yes, there’s gay characters in superhero comics; however, given the nasty and ugly tone of most of DC and Marvel’s mainstream superhero output these days, I wouldn’t consider any of those comics as suitable for children.
As for the story itself, pretty typical Archie hijinks ensue. Kevin befriends Jughead (both of them having insatiable appetites), while Veronica tries in vain to get Kevin’s attention. Jughead hesitates to clue her in given how she treated him early in the tale, and spends the story wanting to see Ronnie humiliate herself. One bit I noticed was seeing Ethel physically chase Jughead, something she doesn’t seem to do much in modern Archie stories (versus the earlier, more ungainly Ethel seen in older digest reprints). The story ends on a note that leaves Kevin open to appear in future stories, as well as a fake “interview” between Kevin and the Archie editors.
Whether or not Kevin appears again in future stories is debatable. While Archie’s introduced new ethnic minority characters in the past, only a few seem to have made it to even tertiary status. Chuck Clayton and his girlfriend Nancy are the most prominent minority characters, to the point of Chuck having had his own miniseries recently. It’ll be nice to know Kevin won’t be skinned alive and turned into a rug or impaled with multiple spikes through his entire body—dubious indignities that’ve recently happened to two of DC and Marvel’s gay characters. However, I’d like to see if he’ll be used in future stories.
Since they mentioned an interest in writing, maybe Kevin could be used as a supporting character (or occasional solo-story focus) for stories involving Riverdale High’s student newspaper? It’d also avoid having him singled out as just “the gay guy,” akin to how Chuck’s gimmick is being “the guy into comics” and not “the Black guy.” It’d also put Kevin in the same category (if not stature) as the other minor characters and their gimmicks (Dilton and science, Moose and sports, etc.).