Archie Andrews is about to die, and even though he’s only a comic book character it’s hard to imagine how his death could be more politically significant: he will meet his end saving his gay friend, gun control advocate Senator Kevin Keller.
The story appears in this month’s edition of the Life with Archie. That saga began as a miniseries about what would happen if Archie married longtime love interests, either Betty or Veronica, and their adult lives. From there it grew into a regular series which served to examine Archie’s possible futures and allow the series to explore more adult themes while still appealing to children. It also allowed the series to explore other characters, including the life of Rivendale’s openly gay character, Kevin Keller.
Keller was actually introduced to followers of life in Riverdale in Veronica (#202) nearly four years back. There was quite a media hubbub about Riverdale’s first openly gay character and, no doubt helped by a hysterical boycott campaign by the Right, the issue proved so popular that the makers of Archie Comics issued a second run, the first time that had happened in Archie’s 70 years. Kevin Keller eventually earned his own series which would become award winning.
In the current Life with Archie storyline, Kevin Kellar is happily married to his veteran spouse. However, things took a turn for the dramatic when his partner was shot trying to stop a robbery.
Wednesday’s installment of the comic book sees Keller as a newly elected senator who is fighting for tighter gun-control laws. Waiting in the wings is someone out to kill Keller, but Archie manages to put himself between the assailant’s bullet and the senator. Archie dies to protect his friend.
Archie Comics publisher and co-CEO Jon Goldwater told the Associated Press: “[Archie] dies heroically. He dies selflessly. He dies in the manner that epitomizes not only the best of Riverdale but the best of all of us. It’s what Archie has come to represent over the past almost 75 years.”
The next installment of the series to be released next month will flash forward one year and see the Riverdale gang coming together to honor Archie. Now, in traditional comic book style, Archie isn’t dead forever. The Archie of the Life with Archie series is now gone, but this is just one possible future and as such we can expect to see Archie’s many alternate selves live for a good while yet. This doesn’t serve to undermine the political statement though. If anything, it heightens it, and gun control opponents have noticed.
Some of the same arguments we see frequently regarding gun use have cropped up here. Had Archie have been carrying a gun, some have mused, this story could have played out very different indeed. They see this as a clear anti-gun agenda. While we might protest and say that the stance is more nuanced, there clearly is a political statement in there. Actually, there’s more than one.
Archie’s Jon Goldwater has shied away from directly addressing the topic of gun control–the text really rather speaks for itself on that–but has pointed out that Archie’s death fits in terms of his character: Archie has always cared about his friends and has tried to do what’s right. There’s another point here, though.
“We wanted to do something that was impactful that would really resonate with the world and bring home just how important Archie is to everyone,” Goldwater is quoted as saying. “That’s how we came up with the storyline of saving Kevin. He could have saved Betty. He could have saved Veronica. We get that, but metaphorically, by saving Kevin, a new Riverdale is born.”
That Riverdale is one in which Kevin Keller, a military veteran married to his same-sex spouse, has ascended to a position of power, and one where in future editions he could use that power to ensure that, by way of responsible gun control laws, tragedies like Archie’s death don’t happen again. The power dynamics, the fact that the gay character didn‘t get killed, and that it is up to him to take up Archie’s mantle–all this matters.
There are some that have questioned whether this is a suitable storyline for a publication that is read by children and young adults. Not only do I believe it’s suitable, in a nation where politicians won’t act to remedy the mounting levels of gun violence due to lax control laws, or work to give LGBTs basic protections under the law, Archie’s death is sadly all too relevant.
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