It’s been well over a year since Kevin Keller debuted in Veronica #202, and the popularity of Riverdale’s new golden boy shows no signs of slowing down. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess that I have two signed Kevin Keller prints hanging on the wall of FBOTU HQ. I walk by them every day and smile at the sheer impossibility and audacity of it all. Last week, the first issue of Kevin’s on-going solo series arrived in stores and online, and I’m going to do my best to discuss it objectively. But since I still can’t approach creator Dan Parent at a con without bursting into tears, I’m not making any promises.
Kevin Keller #1 begins with a brief recap of who Kevin is and what his life is like in Riverdale. He’s an army brat, class president and brand new member of the Archie gang. Kevin even describes himself as “your typical boy next door,” which, in itself, is so quietly revolutionary, I had to go back and read it a few times. There’s no mistaking that Kevin is a role model. He works hard, loves his family and friends and excels in just about everything. Well, almost everything. Apparently, Kevin’s never had a date, and an earlier attempt ended before it could start.
Launching Kevin’s series with a dating issue is bold, to be sure, but not out of character for the strong direction we’ve seen since his introduction. This isn’t a TV series, in which a gay character may be introduced or hinted at, but then never actually has a social life for the duration of the series. This is Riverdale, where dating and crushes make up a significant portion of the plots, entanglements and comedy. Why shouldn’t Kevin get the same treatment?
The Archie gang takes the news of Kevin’s impending first date in stride. They even try to assuage his anxiety by offering helpful(?) suggestions. Betty tells him to be himself, though she admits that being herself hasn’t helped her land Archie. Reggie sees an opportunity to get in good with the class president, so he takes Kevin shopping for the perfect date outfit, which is a nice reversal of gender roles and expectations. Though Reggie’s idea of fashion leans more towards “pride parade” than “first date.”
Straight eye for the queer guy.
Archie advises Kevin on what to do if he’s scheduled two dates at the same time, and Jughead (predictably) casts his vote for gastronomy over monogamy. But the true emotional core of the issue comes from Veronica. She’s upset she had to hear about Kevin’s date from Reggie. Surprisingly, she offers the same advice that Betty did in the beginning: “Don’t try to be anything but yourself!” The Veronica/Kevin friendship has been a stroke of genius thus far. Of course Veronica would have a gay best friend. And, of course, a gay guy would have Veronica as a best friend. It adds a layer and depth to both characters that makes it feel like Kevin has somehow been there all along.
Move over, Will and Grace.
Later, when Kevin’s date actually arrives, he overcomes his clumsiness and anxiety thanks to the advice from his friends and the sweet and encouraging example set by his own parents.
My only complaint with the issue is that Kevin’s date, Brian, doesn’t meet Kevin’s parents. Maybe they already know him? All we know is that he drives a convertible and likes movies. In fact, Kevin’s last date also drove a convertible. So, clearly Kevin has a thing for guys who drive convertibles. (Don’t we all?) Now that I think about it, though, I seem to recall that everyone in Riverdale drives a convertible. Still, he should have introduced himself to mom and dad. (I will assume he does, in fact, meet them, just off panel, on the last page.)
There is definitely an art to writing Archie Comics. It has to be innocent and hopeful, but not cloying. The conflicts require some gravity, but can’t be too threatening. It’s a fine line to walk, and Dan Parent excels at keeping the perfect balance. It may be a revolutionary comic book about a gay teen, but the overall message is simple: Kevin is just like everyone else. This issue does a splendid job of placing Kevin comfortably in the world of Riverdale and in the lives of its most famous residents. And even though we know that Kevin gets married in a future issue of Life with Archie, I look forward to him facing the ups and downs of dating in Riverdale for the next 70 years or so.
P.S. While Kevin’s dad’s reference to building a “stone wall” may not, in fact, be a subliminal reference to Stonewall, the beginning of the gay civil rights movement, I’m choosing to believe it is.
Kevin Keller #1 is available at local comic shops, as well as digitally, via the Archie Comics or Comixology apps.