Aside from “Who would win in a fight?” nothing gets comic fans more heated than the question of whether Archie Andrews should be with Betty Cooper or Veronica Lodge … but there are a lot of other couples in Riverdale, too! In this special edition of this mini-feature, former Bride Rebecca Henely-Weiss and Bride-to-Be Kayleigh Hearn take a literal trip down Memory Lane to when Archie Comics married its breakout gay icon. Did we like the couple? Did we like the tuxedos? Did we like … the weird corporate espionage stuff going on in the background? Find out here!
The Couple: Kevin Keller and Clay Walker
The Issue: Life with Archie #16
Published: February 2012
Today: Despite shooting attempts on both of their lives (!), Kevin and Dr. Clay presumably continue to live happily in both Life with Archie timelines. However, Clay hasn’t appeared in any other Archie Comics or the Riverdale TV show, so for all intents and purposes main-universe Kevin remains single.
Rebecca: When we last covered Archie Comics in this column, we talked about how introducing Kevin Keller —their first gay character—was one of the big moves by the company to modernize their brand. Like the wedding of Alysia Yeoh and Jo, in which two women get married but it’s mostly about Batgirl’s love triangle, the wedding of Kevin and Dr. Clay Walker bookends the ongoing, dual timeline, mostly heterosexual Life with Archie drama. Despite that, it is an interesting look at just where gay politics and the mainstream were at the time.
Kayleigh: Kevin Keller is nice. As someone who grew up reading Archie Comics in the 90s, I’m glad he exists for younger generations and has carved out a place for himself in this group of 80-year-old teenagers. I like what we see of his romance with Clay here—thank god someone got the fuck out of Riverdale and married someone they didn’t meet in Algebra class. It’s a bummer they don’t get more page time here, but it’s the nature of a soap opera to juggle multiple plotlines, and boy oh boy, is Life with Archie a soap opera.
Rebecca: While the archetypal Archie Comic is an anthology of one-shot humor stories, the Life with Archie series employed many ongoing soap opera plots in two separate timelines—one where Archie was married to Veronica and one where he was married to Betty. This was actually Clay Walker’s first appearance, and writer Paul Kupperberg opts to tell how the two grooms met by spreading their story across the opening of the two timelines’ tales. In the Veronica timeline, Kevin begins with his heroism fighting “somewhere in the Middle East,” and how he took a bullet when rescuing a comrade. The Betty timeline shows the more somber end to that story, where Kevin’s injury was followed by a long, bitter convalescence overseen by his doctor Clay. They later ran into each other at an airport in Baltimore where Kevin was due to be shipped out again, then started dating and eventually fell in love.
In both timelines, they get married by the mayor of Riverdale—only in the Veronica timeline that’s Moose Mason and in the Betty timeline that’s Winslow Glibb. Also, in a mirror of the two different weddings that started each universe, Kevin’s wedding in the Veronica-verse is a fancy outdoors ceremony and reception while his wedding in the Betty-verse takes place at the Chocklit Shoppe (now owned by Jughead). The wedding in the Veronica-verse ends on a bit of an ugly note as Veronica tries to use the event as a publicity stunt to get her estranged husband Archie’s attention (it backfires and they have a huge fight), but the wedding in the Betty-verse wraps up sweetly, with Glibb’s speech highlighting the random chances that lead to love before Kevin and Clay join hands as husband and husband.
It’s … fine. That this is a same-sex wedding that’s bookending heterosexual drama is a little annoying, but it’s a little less annoying than the Alysia and Jo wedding given that there seem to be about a billion things going on (in two different universes!) rather than just the straight lead’s love triangle. Still, it does feel underwhelming given the publicity. I wasn’t tempted to try to track down back issues of Life with Archie on the basis of this one.
Kayleigh: Is it bad that I skipped several pages of this issue? Asking me to keep track of all this soap opera drama in two parallel universes is asking a lot, and let me remind you, I read X-Men comics. Kevin and Clay’s scenes are the most interesting here, flag-waving dialogue aside (“Wh-whatever it takes to … get me back to my unit!” Kevin grunts in his first session with his future fiance). We get a sense of their dynamic as a couple (Kevin is more serious, Clay tries to lighten the mood), find out where Clay is from, and see glimpses of both of their families, which is pretty good for a comic where one of the spouses is appearing for the very first time. And there’s a detail that made my eyebrows perk up, namely Moose mentioning that the wedding is taking place “under the legal requirements of Riverdale County!” That’s a pretty significant reminder that at the time this issue was printed, same-sex partners were not able to be legally married everywhere in the U.S. It’s also another nice sign that Riverdale is meant to be an accepting home for everyone.
Rebecca: I haven’t read too many Kevin Keller comics, but I always got the impression that Dan Parent created him as the ideal clean-cut, all-American boy who just happens to be gay. Given the base 1940s-1950s aesthetic of the Archie brand, I think that choice made sense for Archie’s first LGBT character. Still, that principle gets … weird in this issue. The story leans very heavily on him being a good soldier who believes in the military—he says at one point that “the U.S. Army takes care of its own” when he talks about recovering from his injury, and a lot of the banter between him and his fellow soldiers at his wedding in the Veronica-verse feels like they’re reciting slogans. (“We work for Uncle Sam!” “The real heroes are the ones who don’t make it back!”) Maybe it just seems strange for me given that I’m not a pro-military person. Portraying gay soldiers was also timely and relevant as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed two years earlier, but it does feel like Kupperberg is explicitly trying to make a Point About The Bravery of Our Soldiers (Who May Be Gay!) at the expense of unique characterization and it’s weird.
Kayleigh: The problem with Life with Archie is that it’s trying to graft sophisticated stories onto unsophisticated characters. Every Archie character is a broad archetype (Veronica is the Rich Girl, Betty is the Girl Next Door, Cheryl is the … Other Rich Girl), and these archetypes have lasted decades for a reason, but they’re not nuanced. So it’s just kind of … off when the comic tackles subjects like Archie’s failing marriage or Cheryl’s breast cancer diagnosis. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Blossoms 666 take the basic Archie formula and re-imagine it to make their adult concepts work, but this is just Teen Archie, Now He’s Old and Getting Divorced. Everyone ends up talking in bland platitudes, with Kevin’s “talking Captain America toy” dialogue feeling especially generic. Where was he in the Middle East? Who was shooting at him? So, like, I guess Kevin Keller’s killed people now? They were definitely trying to get ahead of the One Million Moms boycott by presenting this particular gay character as the model soldier, but for anyone critical of the American military industrial complex it’s super corny. This is not Batwoman: Elegy, let’s say that.
Rebecca: The fashion in this issue was unfortunately pretty meh. Kevin wears his military uniform in both universes—which is appropriate character-wise and he looks pretty spiffy in it. Clay wears a black suit that’s … fine, but I really don’t like that purple, black and white striped tie which looks more appropriate for the office than a wedding. In terms of which wedding looked more fun—as much as I prefer a fancy wedding and enjoyed meeting Kevin’s hot mom (love the red Farrah Fawcett ‘do Mrs. Keller!)—I have to give it up to the Chocklit Shoppe edition. I like how we get a better look at the guests and how both the Riverdale crew and Clay’s family is in the audience—I love the little flower girl!
Kayleigh: There are two different art teams here (Fernando Ruiz on Team Veronica, Pat and Tim Kennedy on Team Betty) and both give us perfectly respectable Archie house style comics, but neither universe is really concerned with fashion. Veronica appears in a basic black top and red skirt that undermines her using the wedding as a cheap ploy for publicity, and at the Choklit Shoppe (why the hell is it spelled that way) Betty wears a gold blazer/skirt combo and button-up shirt that makes her look like she’s going to a job interview. I think I saw Midge just wearing a pink top and jeans, which!! Made me livid!!! Ethel Muggs was serving looks that put them all to shame, and it’s what she deserves.
Rebecca: As a story and wedding issue, I found this pretty dull. The historic wedding itself is basically just the bookends to a bunch of other drama. The characterization is a bit too light—I especially wish I got to know Clay better (Perhaps the rest of the series fleshes him about a bit more?). The pro-military stuff comes across as weirdly propagandistic. And yet it is an interesting look at where the mainstream was for LGBT politics and visibility. Here we see a same-sex, inter-racial wedding, two years after Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’s repeal but three years before Obergefell v. Hobes. The mainstream was ready for a same-sex wedding in the Archie Universe … but preferred it in a pretty conservative context.
On the other hand, I think given Kevin Keller’s later political career Archie Comics may have predicted Pete Buttigieg. So … that’s cool, I guess.
Kayleigh: I absolutely appreciate how political Life with Archie is being here–remember, this series ends with Archie dying after he takes a bullet meant for Kevin, a gay senator with a strict gun control platform. Archie Comics giving us a gay soldier’s interracial wedding years before Obergefell is a hell of a good thing. So it needles me that Life with Archie #16 also plays it safe, presenting Kevin as G.I. Joe and (I noticed with a frown) not giving the couple a kiss in either universe. And does Kevin and Clay’s love story playing out the same way in both universes say something about fate and true love, or is it just lazy? Ah well. They seem sweet, and their pages together are much more charming than *flips through the pages I skipped* Betty and Reggie getting a reality show? Yeesh. I’m a little sad that these stories are over for them, but who could be mad if a young Clay Walker showed up in the regular Archie books?
And hey, anything can fucking happen on Riverdale, right?