Since Archie Comics’ character of Kevin Keller made his debut in the pages of Veronica nearly six years ago, both our world and the LGBT rights movement have changed considerably. That said, it’s impossible not to think about today’s debut of Life with Kevin — a digital only (for now at least, a print version may be forthcoming down the line) release — and contextualize them with the horrific events in Orlando. I’m not being glib here, in fact far from it, because what makes writer/artist Dan Parent and inker J. Bone’s Life with Kevin so necessary is how it depicts its title character as a sweet, ordinary guy looking for love in the big city without making Kevin’s sexuality his defining trait.
Given recent headlines, any reminder that LGBT people possess the same hopes and dreams as everyone else is welcome, for despite the strides that the LGBT community has made in recent years, the senseless killing at the Pulse nightclub has brought sharp focus to how tragically alive and well hate is. Although this book has been in the works for awhile now, the bittersweet serendipity of it being released when it was is can be viewed as the latest example of both how far the gay rights movement has come as the work that still needs to be done.
Set shortly after Keller’s college graduation, the debut installment of Life with Kevin has him moving to a new apartment in New York City to pursue a career in journalism. Complications quicky arise. His apartment is infested with mice, a plumbing mishap causes him to be late to the first day of his internship, and he discovers that the media is far more interested in reporting about vapid pop culture than hard news. However throughout the comedy of errors that befalls him, Kevin remains as unflappable as ever, even in the face of a new crush and the sudden appearance of one Veronica Lodge on his doorstep.
Being an Archie release, the book shies away from the adult content of a, say Shirtlifter or Wuvable Oaf, and instead takes a less is more approach that hints at Kevin Keller’s rich inner emotional life. At one point in the comic, he gets a late night phone call from an ex and chooses to not speak with him for reasons that have yet to be clearly defined. This quick sequence is perhaps the most true and emotionally relatable thing that Archie has ever published, and the scene serves as a calling call that declares that Life with Kevin is going to feature some mature exploration of relationships in addition to the humor. That this is happening in the pages of a book released by a company that once licensed their characters to be used in evangelical comics feels more than just a little bit revolutionary.
And that’s not even going into the subtle commentary that the issue makes about how growing up sometimes means watching your dreams die. Ouch.
As for the look of the book itself, Parent’s art has never been better, with his emotionally evocative drawings complimented by J. Bone’s warm blue hues and Jack Morelli’s whimsical lettering that gives the comics a warm, Highlights-esque feeling of nostalgia. Life with Kevin is simply a wonder to look at, and it will pop off the screen of you iPad or Kindle.
With future issues, it will be interesting to see what happens with the blooming romance introduced in this issue. Will Kevin get involved in LGBT activism in NYC? Can he find a happy medium between the work he wants to do and the reality of the media in 2016? How will he cope with having Veronica as a roommate? Whatever the answers to these questions may be, Life with Kevin is an extraordinary next step for Archie Comics’ most exciting character.
Chris Cummins is a writer and Archie Comics historian. You can follow him on Twitter at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion.