By Rob Boston
I was never a big fan of comic books when I was a kid, but on those occasions when I did spend some spare change on them, I treated “Archie” comics like they were radioactive. Who cared about the tame antics of the gang in Riverdale when there were superheroes to follow?
Times have changed. “Archie” is really hot now, and it’s all thanks to a character named Kevin Keller. In the “Life with Archie” series (which gets the gang out of high school and follows their adventures in their 20s), Keller is an Iraq War veteran who comes home after being wounded. During his hospital recovery, he meets a physical therapist and falls in love. In an issue that came out Jan. 10, they get married.
Have I mentioned that the physical therapist is also a man? Yep, “Archie” comics hosted a same-sex wedding. (And the mayor of Riverdale officiated!)
This is not going over well in some quarters of the Religious Right. The group Christian Response issued an alert blasting Archie for promoting “the gay agenda” and failing to “discuss honestly…the serious physical and mental dangers of gay sex.”
But wait, there’s more! Christian Response also pointed out that in 2010, “Life with Archie” spun out two plotlines set in separate hypothetical universes. In one, Archie married Betty, and in the other he married Veronica. In neither universe was Archie involved with both women at the same time, but these stories, according to Christian Response, introduce “the idea of polygamy to its readers.”
Some of you may be familiar with Poe’s Law. It’s an Internet dictum holding that it’s more or less impossible to lampoon right-wing fundamentalists because no matter how outrageous the parody, an actual fundamentalist somewhere has probably already said it and meant it.
No Poe here. The Christian Response complaint is, alas, real. And it’s sad. You’d think that after Jerry Falwell was burned over the infamous Tinky Winky incident and James Dobson saw attacks on SpongeBob SquarePants backfire badly, Religious Right groups would stop obsessing over the sex lives of fictional characters. No such luck.
Over at the Family Research Council, Peter Sprigg was also not amused. “It’s unfortunate that a comic book series usually seen as depicting innocent, all-American life is now being used to advance the sexual revolution,” Sprigg told Fox News last year. “I think whatever boost in sales might come from the novelty or curiosity factors will be more than offset by the number of both kids and parents who will be turned off by this storyline and its obvious social and political agenda.”
Luckily, “Archie” fans aren’t listening to the right-wing killjoys. Sprigg is wrong about sales dropping off. In fact, issues are flying off the shelves. The first comic to feature Kevin was so popular it sold out and had to go into an unprecedented second printing. Subsequent issues have also sold well.
Religious Right leaders often claim that the inclusion of gay characters in books, television shows and movies is some type of plot by left-wing Hollywood types to engage in social engineering. I think the opposite is more likely true: The purveyors of media/popular culture see a trend unfolding in larger society and rush to exploit it.
Tolerance of LGBT Americans has been growing steadily. Most young people these days have gay friends and don’t see it as a big deal. Riverdale may be a fictional community, but its creators know that if they want to keep it real, they must reflect the times. Thus, a gay character in Archie’s Riverdale is to be expected because if the city actually existed, there would undoubtedly be gay people living in it and it’s likely that Archie, being the popular guy that he is, would know them.
This is shocking only to the Religious Right, a movement made up of people who, when it comes to gays, are simply incapable of behaving rationally.
I wish Kevin and his new husband a long and happy union. I might just pick up some “Archie” comics to follow their adventures. As an added bonus, I can get an update on what Jughead has been up to these days. Whatever it is, I hope he’s also annoying the Religious Right.