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Originally published Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 11:20 AM

Comics: 'Kevin Keller' gay-teen miniseries should be a point of pride

Archie Comics has a lot to be proud of with "Kevin Keller" No. 1.

Scripps Howard News Service

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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.

Actually, Archie is hedging a bit: "Kevin Keller" No. 1, which arrived June 15, is also "Veronica" No. 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" No. 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 daily, 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 "the 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 unflashy.

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 groundbreaking 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 in 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 United Kingdom 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

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