PHILADELPHIA — Kevin Keller may find himself dead square in the national debate over gays in the military all because of his dad.
The Archie Comics character, the company's first openly gay one in its 70 years of publishing, is loud and proud of his dad, a retired Army colonel which, in the pages of his new four-issue miniseries debuting next week, has Archie, Veronica, Jughead and the rest of the Riverdale gang puzzled given their pal's sexual orientation.
They're even more perplexed when Kevin's mom calls her son her "future military man" – particularly Veronica.
The miniseries comes out June 8 and will be released monthly over its four-issue run.
Writer and artist Dan Parent told The Associated Press that Kevin's relationship with his father is a key plank of the character's identity, just as much as his being gay.
"We just wanted to show a healthy father-son relationship where Kevin's sexuality wasn't an issue, similarly to the reaction he got from the gang in Riverdale," Parent said of the events in the second issue. Parent talked to numerous military brats – children whose parents were career military – and found that they all shared the same bond with family because other ties can be temporary and fleeting.
"There's a certain thing Army brats have in common, and its that feeling of not getting too comfortable in one spot because you really don't know how long you'll be there," he said. "And, maybe not in all cases, but I think in many, there's a closer family bond because all you have from place to place is that immediate family to rely on."
Throughout the story arc, Kevin's homosexuality is not necessarily the main narrative line, but just one of many threads of the tale of a teenager who aspires to be a journalist but only after attending the U.S. Military Academy and being an army officer, too.
Jon Goldwater, co-chief executive of Archie Comics, said Kevin is not meant to be a divisive figure in comics or culture.
"The way it's presented is done with such a light touch. It's kind of the way Dan introduced Kevin," he said. "We're not trying to come across as preachy or heavy-handed or even political."
He dismissed claims that the character is just a publicity stunt aimed at boosting sales or generating buzz, either.
"He's going to be part of the Archie world. We have many plans for him, from the licensing side as well," Goldwater said.
The first issue outlines Kevin's coming out to his dad, asking him if he should rethink his decision to pursue a military career.
"On the contrary! I don't want to stop you," Col. Keller says. "It takes a special person to serve their country. Someone with heart and courage!"
Parent said he was writing the story when Congress voted to allow gays to serve openly in the military.
"Even though we don't tackle the specific issue of Don't Ask Don' Tell, the goal was to show that patriotism knows no specific gender, race or sexual orientation," Parent said. "While it sounds like heavy subject matter, I tried to show it simply that Kevin, like his dad, loves his country. Being gay doesn't effect that in any way."