When word first emerged that Kevin Keller, the first out gay character in the Archie comics universe, came from a military family, I assumed that the comics were just going to hint at “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rather than addressing the issue head-on. Turns out, my expectations weren’t ambitious enough. In his stand-alone comics, Kevin’s going to come out to his family and directly discuss with his father whether the fact that he’s gay means he should abandon plans to serve in the military.
There’s no question that decision is going to polarize, and it will lose the comic readers. But the Archie franchise has needed a major revitalization for a long time. It’s true the series has persisted for an amazingly long time, but it probably can’t go on as a cheerfully irrelevant product that sells decently but unspectacularly and is entirely absent from the national conversation. There are things that should happen just on the marketing end, for sure. The website for the company badly needs a face lift so it’ll load quickly and be more social-media friendly. The Josie and the Pussycats movie, with the exception of Adam Schlesinger’s soundtrack, was a disaster, but there’s no reason that someone couldn’t make a tween- and teen-friendly Archie movie that’s not unbearably stupid.
But really, the core content has needed a facelift to at least catch it up with more serious and sophisticated trends in young adult literature. This may be too polarizing to work, but it’s at least a way to have the characters thinking about their lives and careers beyond Riverdale. And more importantly, it makes the Archie comics look a bit more like the actual experiences of contemporary teenagers. It’s been great that Kevin’s experience in Riverdale has been so positive, but it’s really kind of wishful thinking, almost speculative fiction. I don’t really want to see Kevin get bashed or bullied for the sake of realism, but I do think that dealing with real problems will make him a more relatable, and thus more viable, long-term character.