Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Archie Comics Goes Sexually Progressive

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. believes that sexual morality is simply a "time thing." Forget those outmoded ideas of sexuality being determined by creation, biology, religion or thousands of years of civilization. Mr. Pitts is just pleased that the comic book industry is gettin' up to speed.

Just what sexual perversions he hopes will come next in the progressive time-line he doesn't say.

You know where Riverdale is, of course. It lies at that junction of wholesomeness and Americana where, for almost 70 years, it has been home to Archie Andrews, Betty Cooper, Veronica Lodge, Jughead Jones and the other eternal teenagers of Archie Comics.

Last week, the company announced a new addition to the cast. In September, it said, in Veronica #202, Kevin Keller debuts in a story that finds the titular spoiled rich girl mysteriously unable to get his attention despite using all her feminine wiles.
"She's not so bad,'' Kevin confides to Jughead. "I'm just not interested in dating her. . . . It's nothing against her. I'm gay.''...

This looms as a watershed moment.
That's precisely because Riverdale exists at that junction of wholesomeness and Americana.

There are few entities in mass media more conservative than Archie Comics; indeed, some years back, the characters were licensed for a Christian evangelical series of books.
So when it comes to introducing Riverdale's first openly gay teenager, the salient issue isn't how well they do it or what they stand to gain from doing it, but that they are doing it at all.

Can you imagine the company feeling compelled to introduce this character 20 years ago? Or even 10? Of course not.
Twenty years ago, homosexuality was dangerous, 10 years ago, it was risqué. The appearance of a gay character in Archie Comics strongly suggests that it has become, is becoming, mainstream. Even safe...

So what should we say now that there is a homosexual in Riverdale? How about:
Welcome to the 21st century. We've been waiting for you.

This homosexual character isn't the first to appear in modern comic books. Apparently, the super hero genre already has several openly gay characters including Batwoman, Starman, Midnighter and others. But to choose the old-fashioned, younger-directed Archie comics as yet another venue to help sell the normalcy of homosexuality is a big deal indeed.

notwithstanding Mr. Pitts' theory that Archie is merely showing the world as it is (a rather strange claim for a comic book), others understand that it is a move designed to change culture more than just reflect it. For instance, Salon writer Douglas Wolk, who is all for the change, admits, "So, yes: Archie's bosses get points for trying to make Riverdale a slightly less 1940s vision of what American culture is like, because stories for children don't just reflect the world, they shape it."