A little more than a year has passed since the debut issue of Kevin Keller’s solo title. Writer/ artist Dan Parent and Archie Comics continue to surprise me with their handling and presentation of the all American, boy next door who just happens to be gay. And the surprise in this issue is that Kevin officially is dating a boy named Devon. Make that two surprises, which I’ll elaborate on in a bit.
Parent handles the revelation of Kevin’s nascent romance with the typical lighthearted Archie house style. Kevin is subjected to some gentle ribbing from Veronica once the romance is confirmed. Jughead registers Veronica’s coy allusions with an “Okay! Whatever!” and is only bummed that Kevin is too busy to share a pizza. Betty discovers Kevin and Devon (Oh, gosh! Rhyming names!) secretly meeting in another town, and later congratulates the pair at school. And yes, homophobia does exist at Riverdale High, albeit in mild amounts compared to the degree far too many teens experience in their lives. Betty’s good intentions are a catalyst that Parent uses to highlight and touch upon the tension that can arise in relationships when one person is out and the other is not, as Devon is. Out of Betty’s eagerness come serious repercussions for the relationship and for Devon. Parent decides to have Devon’s father disown him and kick him out of the house. Mr and Mrs Keller are faced with the dilemma of what they should do for Devon. The issue of two gay teens romantically involved living under the same roof is adroitly sidestepped with a generous offer by one of the Archie gang. As progressive as Archie is with Kevin Keller – and it is – sex, or rather the evidence of sex, in Riverdale has been and remains for the time being strictly pro-creational. Tragedy rarely strikes in Riverdale. The only time I’m aware of is Miss Grundy’s death from cancer. While Devon won’t be sleeping on the street or selling himself for food or drugs or raped and beaten, the topic of gay youth homelessness is one that I’d never suspected the publisher to bring up in even a limited way.
That other surprise to which I alluded above? What could top Kevin dating another boy on panel? Kevin’s secret admirer, revealed as a boy named Paul, who stood up Kevin at the prom in a recent storyline coming forth at the end of the story to publicly announce his romantic intentions, all of which makes for a supremely awkward moment because Devon is by Kevin’s side. If Kevin’s equality with the publisher were ever in question, Parent could put it to rest with a closing bit of dialog from Archie Andrews himself: “It’s not so awkward! Take if from me! He’ll get used to it!”
In each of the previous issues of Kevin’s title and I believe in the introductory mini there has been a two paged fashion spread. I suspect the fashion section is a feature in the Betty and Veronica books too though I’ve never checked. The emphasis in Kevin’s section has been on him, to be sure. However, Veronica has always been inlcuded, as if her presence were required to act as some kind of buffer. Perhaps I’m trying to make nothing into something, but Veronica’s inclusion changed this issue.
The temptation to compare the manner in which Parent handles Keller with the ways DC and Marvel handles their respective LGBT characters is tempting. Apples are indeed different from oranges though they are both still (ahem) fruits. The doubt and concerns I had about the creation and presentation of a gay teen character appropriate for the company’s target audience age range are steadily being put to rest. I’ll continue to look forward to more Kevin stories with happy anticipation until the day Archie Comics decides to hire Orson Scott Card to write for the company.