The cultural left is thrilled that in the comic book Life with Archie (issue #16), which came out Wednesday, that Riverdale's first gay character, Kevin Keller, a military veteran, marries the domestic partner of his dreams, African-American physical therapist Clay Walker. NPR's talk show The Takeaway described it as a "progressive grand slam."
Angela Gay of the ACLU blogged that Archie's traditional Midwestern setting made this comic-book milestone more invigorating:
For this comic book fan, the big deal is seeing a same-sex, (interracial!) loving relationship portrayed in Riverdale. LGBT relationships in Gotham, or discussed in the politically liberal living rooms and offices of Doonesbury, sure that’s what you may expect. But Riverdale, and the wider Archie universe have long stood for the mega-wholesome ideal of the American Midwest of yesteryear — a place where writers and artists have long told us there is no room for diversity, regardless of what the truth may be...
Kevin Keller, Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and the whole gang, are simply characters in a made-up world, but in Kevin and Clay’s marriage and relationship we can see the potential for love, equality and fairness in the real world.
A few weeks back, CNN.com’s Stephanie Siek filed a completely one-sided celebration of the event:
Archie Comics CEO Jonathan Goldwater said it's part of a concerted effort to make Archie's universe mirror the diversity and complexity that today's readers encounter in their lives. Archie's first comic book appearance was in 1941, and the core "gang" of Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica had, for the most part, changed only cosmetically.
"Riverdale, Archie and the gang are set in high school, and we ran a risk, unless we reflect what's going on with kids today in the real world, of becoming irrelevant," said Goldwater, the son of Archie creator John L. Goldwater...
Riverdale is still a pop culture symbol for all things wholesome, moderate and Midwestern, and Kevin Keller's success seem to indicate that readers think he fits right in.
Goldwater said the creation of Riverdale High's first gay student resulted in only seven canceled subscriptions, and "hundreds and hundreds" of new ones. Archie Comics sold out of Kevin's four-issue miniseries. Kevin is also getting his own title, published every other month, in February. Creator Dan Parent said dating will be a major part of his storyline - as it is in every Archie character’s narrative.
"And of course it won’t be as smooth as you think it will be, because it’s an Archie comic," Parent said. "The story really revolves more around Kevin preparing for the date, and the influence of the gang helping him in going on his date."
Part of the reason Kevin has proven so popular may be the fact that his sexuality is handled just like that of the heterosexual characters – as part of their storyline, not a gimmick.
"Sexuality is a trait that’s a facet of a character, but is not the single defining characteristic when the writer is doing a good job," said Bob Bretall, co-host of the Comic Book Page Podcast. "I applaud Archie for creating a character where being gay isn't a pejorative and showing that it's possible for the Riverdale characters to interact with Kevin as they would interact with any other person."