'Kevin Keller' miniseries explores a character, not a cause

By Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service


Archie’s Kevin Keller is a first in a lot of ways. He’s the first openly gay teenager in Riverdale. He’s the first Archie character to spin off into his own eponymous miniseries. Heck, that four-issue miniseries is itself a first for Archie Comics; they’ve never done one before.

 

Actually, Archie is hedging a bit on that last part: Kevin Keller #1, which arrived June 15, is also Veronica #207. But that’s a technicality, and probably has more to do with in-house scheduling than any doubts about Kevin, whose name is emblazoned proudly across the top of the cover.

 

And Archie Comics has a lot to be proud of with Kevin Keller #1. Not only is Kevin gay, he is – thankfully – no-big-deal gay. It’s just an aspect of his character, not the whole of it. He’s a character, not a cause.

 

That’s the reality most teens deal with it on a daily basis, gay or straight or anything in between. In fact, you could read most of Kevin Keller and drop another new character in his place.

 

The series is meant to provide his background; the mechanism is two friends from one of Kevin’s previous schools, who drop by and give the Riverdale gang an opportunity to quiz them about Kevin’s past. As it turns out, it’s a background a lot of kids can identify with: Kevin’s an Army brat, who has moved around a lot; he and his two pals were unpopular geeks; the three of them were pudgy, gawky, or otherwise unattractive until they grew out of it; they dealt with bullies.

 

Where “teh gay” comes into play is the story of Kevin coming out, and it’s a scenario that would be the envy of many gay teens. His parents are understanding, and don’t freak out. His Army officer father even affirms: “I’ll always love you, no matter what. … You’re the best son a father could have.” The only hint of difficulty is a veiled warning from Col. Keller to Kevin about the latter’s plans for joining the military. Could it be a reference to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”? We don’t know yet.

 

Anyway, that’s probably not the coming-out experience most gay teens have, so it could be criticized as unrealistic. I choose to see it as an affirmation of what Riverdale has always been: The fantasy of an average American town where everyone feels safe, comfortable and wanted.

 

Surprisingly, Kevin fits snugly into the Riverdale gang more than other late additions over the years, like Chuck Clayton and Cheryl Blossom. He and Veronica share a lot of interests, so he provides her the BFF that rival Betty could never be. The snappy patter between her, Kevin and Jughead is comfortable, and Kevin’s niche seems natural and unforced.

 

Credit goes to Dan Parent, who created Kevin Keller and is the writer/artist on the miniseries. Parent draws in what used to be the company’s house style, so his work is comfortable, professional and un-flashy. 

 

Which pretty much sums up Kevin Keller. It’s as good as any Archie comic out there, and that’s saying a lot.

 

REPRINT ROUNDUP

 

* I held off buying the new hardback series collecting Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant, because I already have complete reprint collections of that ground-breaking comic strip. But I finally broke down and bought Prince Valiant Vol. 1: 1937-38 (Fantagraphics, $29.99), and I’m glad I did. The reproduction is crisp, and the strips are presented the size they originally ran, that of a newspaper broadsheet. This is how Foster’s gorgeous artwork was meant to be seen, and I have to be careful not to drool on the pages.

 

* When Fawcett Comics stopped creating new Captain Marvel stories in 1953, the company that reprinted them in the UK tasked writer/artist Mick Anglo to create a similar, substitute superhero called Marvelman. After that eventually ended, the character remained in limbo until Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman famously reworked Marvelman in the 1980s  into an apocalyptic, deconstructionist meditation on power and morality (reprinted in America as Miracleman to avoid conflict with Marvel Comics).

 

The rights to Miracleman are famously tied up in court, but Marvel Comics has begun reprinting Anglo’s version of the character in its original black and white.  I finally picked up Marvelman Classic Volume 1 ($34.99), and just as I’d heard, these stories from 1953-54 are aimed at kids and are extremely derivative and simplistic. Marvelman Classic might be of value for comics historians, but not for casual readers.

 

Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at capncomics@aol.com

Views: 127

Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on June 23, 2011 at 3:44pm
PRINCE VALIANT:

I held off buying the new hardback series collecting Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant, because I already have complete reprint collections of that ground-breaking comic strip.

That’s me exactly (except I haven’t yet broken down and shelled out for the new hardcovers). Every time one ships, the owner of my LCS taunts me, “Are you sure you don’t want one?” They’re up to three now. I’ve got Tracy reading the Schultz/Gianetti ones every Sunday, but I haven’t yet convinced her to read any of theFostermaterial.

MARVELMAN CLASSIC:

…these stories from 1953-54 are aimed at kids and are extremely derivative and simplistic. Marvelman Classic might be of value for comics historians, but not for casual readers.

The Marvelman Family’s Finest collection is the way to go for the casual reader who is at all interested in the early material. Here’s what I posted about it recently:

There are already three (soon to be four) collections of classic Marvelman stories from the ‘50s: Marvelman Classic Vol. 1, Marvelman Classic Vol. 2 (both chronological reprints), and Marvelman Family’s Finest (collection the mini-series discussed above). The fourth, Young Miracleman Classic Vol. 1, was solicited to ship this past Wednesday, so it ought to be out any week now. If you’re only going to own one, the one to buy is definitely Marvelman Family’s Finest.

Each issue reprinted one Marvelman story, one Young Marvelman, one Kid Marvelman, one Marvelman Family and one chapter of the “Marvelman Serial,” and as I mentioned in above, they cherry-picked from among the best of the stories including origins. In the collection, they’ve grouped them all together, and they’ve even thrown in the Marvelman Primer I mentioned I skipped back on August 2 of last year.

Most of the volume (all of the stories) is printed on pulpy, black and white newsprint, but there’s a glossy section at the end which reprints covers, pin-ups, etc. on glossy paper in color. I recommend this kitschy collection to anyone with young children, the young at heart, or those who might be nostalgic for the simpler comics of an earlier time.
Comment by David N on June 23, 2011 at 9:27pm

"He’s the first Archie character to spin off into his own eponymous miniseries. Heck, that four-issue miniseries is itself a first for Archie Comics; they’ve never done one before."

When Archie brought back Cheryl Blossom (introduced in 1980's Betty & Veronica comics) for the "Love Showdown" crossover in 1994, it proved so popular she soon starred in her own 3-issue mini-series in 1995. She then starred in another 3-issue mini (Cheryl's Summer Job) in 1996. She again starred in another 3-issue mini (Cheryl Goes Hollywood) in late '96/early '97. Finally in '97 she received her very own ongoing series,  lasting 37 issues.    

 

- David (the 'N' is for nitpicking)

Comment by Captain Comics on June 24, 2011 at 1:01am

No worries about the nitpicking, David -- I appreciate being corrected, so I will be less wrong in the future.

 

In my defense, though, I'll say that I ran that "first miniseries" line past the PR rep and the publisher, and both said "yes, it's our first miniseries."

Comment by Captain Comics on July 2, 2011 at 11:23pm

Hey, I got my first hate mail on this story! I'm a little disappointed, because when I wrote about the first gay Rawhide Kid miniseries, I had wall-to-wall hate mail. I guess people just don't write as much as they used to. Anyway, here it is:

 

Hey, I don't care if you don't answer any negative e-mail. It just proves harder to handle than someone who agrees. If that's right then that is just plain tough.
 
   "...safe...comfortable and wanted..." That's what you wrote. Not a bad trio. Everyone would like to think that would be the perfect thing for a small fictional town like Riverdale. It is exactly what most readers thought of when we used to buy Archie comic books. But, let's pretend we can see a hidden element never thought about by the writers and older artists of the long running series. Like an ant hill of different kind of bugs they had never seen before, coming out and invading the territory, walking where they have no right to, interrupting peace and tranquility already well established by a capable staff. These bugs prove to have differences about them...even their sexual preferences are different.
 
 Veronica is perplexed when one of them, resembling a human, turns her down for a date and takes up with another male bug. What takes place in the alley is unprintable and we jump to the next frame. Oh, why do that, pray tell? To hide what goes on between the two male bugs. Cutting to the point of this worse case scenario is the fact that no comic had better ever show what gay people do behind closed doors, but to prove they are different, they just might. When you people get rid of the shambles of morals even Jughead will be getting it on with Betty and the gays and lesbians will still be hiding what they do from straight members of the world's population. What they do would lead to the final turn down against them, even for those who sympathize with gay family members or gay friends. You see, that part of it is never brought to the open beyond the two gay people doing it. It always leaves the gay person looking like they never do anything but live together and enjoy picnics and above board things. But, the truth of the matter is the things they do is a filthy abomination to the human race!
 
   I saw a billboard the other day that asks, "Heaven...or Hell?" That's the question the Gay Movement must answer when the end comes, and it shall come.
 
Charles Tevis
Straight Movement, USA
I think the funniest part is where he's imagining what Kevin and his boyfriend (who are "bugs") are doing in "an alley," something that didn't occur to me at all. Why is the "Straight Movement" guy imagining gay sex that wasn't shown or even implied anywhere in the story? And why is it in a nasty old alley, instead of a bedroom, where most sex takes place? What's up with that, Charles?
Comment by George on July 2, 2011 at 11:53pm

Capt. Comics said: "I'm a little disappointed, because when I wrote about the first gay Rawhide Kid miniseries, I had wall-to-wall hate mail."

 

Yeah, I remember that. A lot of it came from Clarksville, Tenn., where my newspaper (at the time) ran your article.

 

I used to get hate mail for my op-ed column. When I wrote a "liberal" column (like one saying it was a bit extreme to call Obama the anti-Christ), I would get e-mails telling me to move to Cuba or North Korea, where a Commie socialist traitor like me would be happier.

Comment by Cavaliere (moderator emeritus) on July 3, 2011 at 5:41am

I wasn't going to buy the issue in question because, frankly, I'm not the target audience for an Archie comicbook. I enjoy them when I read them but rarely put my money down to do so. Having read Charles' letter, I really need (well, need being a relative term) to see what the hoopla is about. Frankly, I can't imagine that there'll be anything that bad because it's an Archie comic for goodness sake! 

 

Good job, Charles! You just made another sale for Archie Comics!

Comment by Mr. Silver Age on July 3, 2011 at 11:20am

Anyway, that’s probably not the coming-out experience most gay teens have, so it could be criticized as unrealistic

Of course it's unrealistic, it's in an Archie comic book! A world where three girls, the richest, best and sexiest (although all three fit the last criteria) have physical fights over which of them gets to go to the prom with an average-looking, average-physique, poor, clumsy guy who drives a clunker of car when he has gas money.

OTOH, Archie is a member of every team, the editor of the school newspaper, the lead singer of the most popular band in town, a surfer, skier and a pal and bandmate to a guy who tries to sabotage his dates at every turn!

It's probably no more unrealistic than Glee, so I can't fault them for it, but they could've created  more drama, albeit maybe drama they didn't want to deal with, if they'd added a few bumps.

Frankly, it's not really good hate mail. He only seems to think you didn't think enough about what those bugs are REALLY doing in that alley, and if you did, you'd rethink your acceptance of this story. And he doesn't even seem to hate Kevin, he just hates what he does. Kevin has just made a bad choice, one he hasn't thought through well enough that's going to catch with him on Judgment Day.

I think he spends too much time thinking about what bugs specifically do in alleys (how many videos do you suppose he's watched to be sure he knows the options?) and then patted himself on the back for writing an e-mail that you won't dare to respond to. But he's tough, he can handle your nonresponse. You gotta admire him for that. Or not.

-- MSA

 

Comment by Dagwan on July 3, 2011 at 12:08pm

For a moment, I had the thought that the writer was a nut-job who was going to criticize Archie for not depicting some on-panel gay sex.

 

The bug comparison was offensive on just about every level.



"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." -Groucho Marx

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Comment by ClarkKent_DC on March 19, 2014 at 4:44pm

I just finished reading I Am Kevin Keller, which I picked up from my friendly neighborhood library. (I know I'm late, but, hey -- if you haven't read it yet, it's new to you, right?)

I've actually seen more of Kevin Keller in the Life With Archie series featuring the Riverdale High gang as adults, so it was interesting to see his backstory in light of that series. It was fascinating to see how readily accepted Kevin was; it's a clear sign that Archie Comics, the publishing house, has drastically changed. I seriously doubt Kevin would have fared so well in one of the old Spire Comics books.

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