Comics are solicited months in advance, so it's been quite a while since the publishers of Archie Comics announced that they would be introducing their very first gay character. It was such a big news story that CNN burst into their daily Lindsay Lohan prison watch to report it, and now, months later, "Veronica" #202 is finally in stores, so I went out to find it.
This was easier said than done. My comic store, which caters to the serious graphic novel aficionado (unless they want trade paperbacks, which are for some reason not kept in any kind of order; I like my new store, but good God, is alphabetical by author really that difficult?), does not carry Archie Comics. Borders, on the other hand, tries to be all things to all people, and is more than happy to carry Archie Comics next to the CD's, DVD's, books, magazines, greeting cards, fresh pastries, candles, handbags, toys, coffee, umbrellas, calendars, and makeup. Not to sound all Andy Rooney or anything, but when did bookstores stop carrying books?
Anyway, I took my brand new copy of "Veronica" #202 home and read it, not really knowing what to expect. I haven't read an Archie Comic since I was little, and vaguely remember them as a place where everything seemed to be stuck in the 1950's and Archie, for some unknown reason, had trouble choosing between a hot girl with middle class parents and an equally hot girl whose father is a millionaire. The idea of the writers sticking a gay guy in what I remember as being a comic version of "Happy Days" seemed like a potential recipe for disaster or a well handled educational experience.
It turns out to be a little of both.
Let's go ahead and meet the new guy, shall we?
I've heard he's hot.
Our story opens at Pop's, the Riverdale malt shoppe, where Veronica has stumbled onto a hamburger eating contest:
Who knew that the citizens of Riverdale were such vigorous fans of competitive eating?
Anyway, Kevin is proving here that he's not just pretty, but also smart. Anyone who's seen "Never Been Kissed" knows that the instant way to high school popularity is to challenge a popular boy to an eating contest at lunch time and then beat him:
Sure enough, everyone loves Kevin immediately, especially Veronica, who explodes with enough love to make Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction" look like a wallflower with a schoolgirl crush:
Veronica is so instantly in love that I think her shirt changed color in that scene to match the crazy hearts in her crazy eyes. Over the next few days, a deeply smitted Veronica pursues a somewhat friendly but disinterested Kevin, becoming increasingly frustrated as he plays hard to get.
Except that he's not playing. Kevin really, really isn't interested in Veronica:
I give Archie Comics a lot of credit here, for two reasons. First, nobody asks what "I'm gay" means, keeping this from veering into the territory of an after school special. Second, Kevin turns out to be the nicest character in this story, because he immediately wants to explain himself to Veronica and let her down easy. Jughead convinces him not to, though.
Because Jughead is a total bastard:
The worst part is that Jughead's reason for this is that Veronica called him a total failure for losing the hamburger eating contest. For this, Jughead is going to dick around with a teenaged girl's emotions, and then laugh about it. These two things aren't even close to equal. It's kind of like Veronica punched Jughead in the arm and he responded by hitting her in the knees with a baseball bat. Jughead convinces Kevin that he should let Veronica down really easy, so Kevin tries to drop some hints:
Unfortunately, they fly right over Veronica's head, but Betty picks up on it almost immediately.
This is unfortunate because Betty Cooper, all American girl next door, takes advice from Satan:
Yeah, Betty, you go, girl. Go straight to hell! Demon-Betty convinces Betty that she shouldn't tell Veronica, either, because as long as Veronica is tied up with a futile pursuit of Kevin then Betty can have Archie all to herself.
Welcome to Riverdale, kids. Keep your friends close and your frenemies closer.
Veronica's pursuit of Kevin becomes so desperate and frantic that eventually Betty has a change of heart, breaks down, and comes clean about Kevin. She can't bring herself not to be a little snotty about it, though:
Still, Veronica takes it pretty well, and she and Kevin immediately descend into a charmingly stereotypical friendship:
So, what have we learned?
1) Cross Jughead at your peril. His response to gentle taunting brings new meaning to the term "scorched earth". Jughead won't TP your house. He'll burn it down, bulldoze the remains, and then salt the earth so that nothing ever grows there again.
2) Straight people are perfectly willing to behave in a completely unethical manner to win. Betty thinks it over for a whole four panels on a fraction of a page before she decides to sell out her friend to land a man. The only person in this book who consistently wants to do the right thing is the gay guy.
3) There are black people in Riverdale now. I saw at least two in this comic.
4) Reggie seems to have vanished. When I was little, Archie Comics had a strange romantic quadrangle going where Betty and Veronica fought over Archie while Archie and Reggie fought over Veronica when Archie didn't also want Betty and Betty didn't sometimes end up with Reggie and Reggie wasn't dressing up as a girl for some unknown reason. Given the way the rest of this comic went, I figure they either decided Reggie would complicate the story too much or that Reggie is buried under the floorboards in Jughead's basement for taking the last ice cube out of Jughead's freezer and not refilling the tray.
5) Kevin Keller, competitive eater and semi-pro glutton, is a huge drama queen. This reaction is completely disproportionate to fruit-filled candy:
Wait, wait, what am I saying? He's a hot gay guy who hates fruit and loves candy.
He's pretty much my dream guy.