All right, I’m going to begin by stating that many of the terms I’m utilizing I discovered through Herman Gray’s Watching Race: Television and the Struggle for Blackness. While his book focuses primarily on Blackness, I believe his term of Assimilationist can be applied to out groups such as gender, sexuality, religion, or politics. In this case, I will utilize his term to apply it to the recent introduction of Kevin, the first openly gay character in Archie comics.
To begin, I would like to take into account Herman Gray’s explanation of what he believes is assimilationist programs:
The worlds they construct are distinguished by the complete elimination or, at best, marginalization of social and cultural difference in the interest of shared and universal similarity (85).
This can clearly be seen in the introduction of Kevin into the Archie-verse in Veronica #202. In fact, the reader is first shown Kevin as he is challenging Jughead to a burger eating activity. Like most teenage boys, Kevin joins in on the fun of competition. Not to mention that Kevin is the ideal man with a square jaw and flowing blonde hair with blue eyes. Kevin’s gay identity is stated as basically a fact which can be ignored because he’s just like everyone else.
I have to admit, though, that is a great joke about the love triangle between Archie, Betty, and Veronica.
The large plot motivator is interesting. It involves Kevin remaining in the closet to everyone except for Jughead mostly through Jughead’s manipulation. He continually stalls Kevin from outing himself to the rest of the characters because he believes it will be a good joke to have Veronica build up her hopes at winning the handsome newcomer and then crush those hopes in a maniacal fashion.
Most of the humor that comes from the book is through the reader being in on Kevin’s sexuality and watching Veronica clearly fail time after time to succeed at the impossible. Now, I have to give Archie some credit for not suddenly straightening Kevin in order to give Veronica a new love interest. In fact, they remain fairly stout that Kevin is gay and there is no changing that.
However, my issue comes from absolutely no gay culture manifesting itself with Kevin. He could easily be a stand-in for the captain of the football team. He never hits on any guys or develops a love interest of his own. Granted, this is a Veronica book so it centers around her, but I believe that they could have shown some of gay culture through the comic. Yes, this is a comic primarily for children, but it could have pushed some more boundaries rather than rearranging facts.
The show therefore acknowledges Kevin’s sexuality but it frames the cultural distinctions and conflicts based on his sexuality in a way that appeals to visions of similarity and universal harmony (Gray 85).
The show also never has any “sustained engagement with the messiness, confusion, and tension caused by [prejudice] and inequality that punctuate the daily experience of so many members of our society” (Gray 86).
In that case, the show never critically investigates some of the problems that Kevin may have for being gay. Instead, he is the happy, smiling, friendly, new person who loves to eat but has to fend off unwanted potential girlfriends.
Despite the negative reaction I have to the comic, I still have to applaud Archie comics for going out on a limb. Many parents (at least the outliers) may have had or do have reservations about a gay character being in a comic meant for children and pre-teenagers. Yes, they presented him in an assimilationist way, but this is one of those instances that I am happy to see anything and everything that portrays a positive image of being gay.
Archie would make huge strides forward if, in future comics, they provide Kevin with more of a background and possibly a homosexual relationship/flirtation. That would definitely be a comic I would like to read. Archie did a decent job at showing someone who is gay, and I believe they can make a large impact on the industry in the future with this character.