I was never all that crazy about Archie Comics as a kid. Sure, Reggie was cute, and I wanted to be rich like Veronica. But the stories and setting seemed so suburban and dull.
What turned me off Archie Comics once and for all was the Christian version that was introduced in the ’70s. Suddenly, we had scenes of Archie dreaming that the devil was trying to drag him to Hell. And Betty responding to the other kids’ desire to be popular by preaching to them that God is the only answer. Once I got a glimpse of these strange and disturbing comics, I never read another issue.
But now, I’m almost tempted to have a second look at Archie Comics.
The September 2010 issue of Veronica introduced a character named Kevin Keller. Kevin was good-looking, an aspiring journalist, and he wanted to join the US military like his father. Oh, and Kevin was gay.
Since I was still stuck in the belief that Archie Comics were mega-Christian, I assumed Kevin might be used to illustrate the evils of homosexuality. But instead, the character introduced Archie Comics readers to the subject of gay teens and gays in the military. Sure, this resulted in some cancelled subscriptions, but they were far outnumbered by the new subscribers drawn by the addition of Kevin.
Of course, Kevin Keller wasn’t the first gay character in mainstream comics. A much earlier contender for that crown was Northstar, who appropriately enough was a Canadian named Jean-Paul Beaubier. Northstar first appeared in the Uncanny X-Men in 1979 as a member of the Canadian super team Alpha Flight. Throughout the ’80s, there were hints that Northstar was gay (the Comics Code Authority wouldn’t allow characters to be openly homosexual). Finally in 1992, Northstar was allowed to come out, which led to that Alpha Flight issue selling out within a week.
Sales of the first Kevin Keller issue were also strong. But rather than returning to semi-obscurity as Northstar did, Kevin’s popularity has continued to grow. Starting in February 2012, he’ll be given his own ongoing series. And even more significant, Kevin will be featured in a January 2012 issue of Life with Archie, which explores the lives of the characters as they grow older. In that issue, a 20-something Kevin returns to Riverdale as a war hero and gets married to a man he met in the military.
While the existence of gay people in mainstream US media may not be a hot-button issue anymore, same-sex marriage certainly is, especially in the upcoming election year. Responding to Kevin’s impending nuptials, the Family Research Council stated, “It’s unfortunate that a comic book series usually seen as depicting innocent, all-American life is now being used to advance the sexual revolution . . . and its obvious social and political agenda.”
Interesting how a comic book reflecting the current realities of society has an “agenda.” No mention is made of how that same comic book, a few decades earlier, was feeding unsuspecting kids a heavy-handed – and frankly terrifying – message about a very narrow view of Christianity. I wonder which agenda does more harm to children.
Fortunately, Archie Comics’ Christian phase was a short-lived licensing agreement with a Christian publisher. And equally as fortunate, the current publishers of Archie are committed to contemporizing the aging comic. According to the organization’s co-CEO, “Riverdale is accepting of everybody, and we hope the world is accepting of everybody.”
Okay, so I’m not likely to start reading Archie Comics again. But I’ll be a lot less aghast when I see my nieces and nephews reading them. And I’ll continue to live in hope that Reggie finally ditches Veronica and comes out.