This September, long-running Archie Comics will celebrate its 69th birthday by adding a gay character to the gang, one Kevin Keller.
This hunky new character, with blond curly hair and a strong Ben Affleck-like chin, shows up in Riverdale in Veronica Comics #202 and immediately becomes the apple of Veronica's eye.
However, the plot of the debut story, titled "Isn't It Bromantic," centers around the fact that Veronica doesn't have a clue why he's not interested in her.
Having a gay character in a comic whose readership tends to be females between the ages of 7 and 14 is groundbreaking enough, but what is pleasing pop culture writers like Dennis Ayers is how nonchalantly Archie, Reggie, Betty and especially Jughead react to the news.
"When Jughead finds out, he acts like it's no big deal," Ayers said. "It's great that a comic book that is so wholesome and white bread is treating being gay as if it's a perfectly normal American thing."
Ayers also says that focusing the plot around Veronica's cluelessness is the best way to handle introducing a gay character to the series.
"[Archie Comics] is handling it perfectly," he said. "It's rare for a gay comic character to be introduced without some angst. There is no edge to Archie, so introducing a gay character to the series is more meaningful than, say, Marvel Comics."
However, some comics historians, such as Shaindle Minuk, who runs the Stupid Comics website with her husband, David Merrill, says the really interesting part to the new character is how the press release hailing his debut emphasizes that Kevin is "the first openly gay character."
"They're not saying other characters weren't gay, and it's long been speculated that Jughead is gay since he hates women," Minuk said. "Of course, my husband thinks Reggie is a lot gayer."
Minuk is also amused that Veronica, who, as Riverdale's biggest fashionista, would have some experience dealing with gays, doesn't seem to pick up on Kevin's sexual orientation.
"It seems like she'd have more experience [with gays] than the others," Minuk said. "Maybe they never talk about it and she's in her own Veronica world."
One person with a personal interest in Archie's new friend is actor Glenn Scarpelli, who is best known for his long-running role as Alex Handris on the hit television situation comedy "One Day at a Time."
Besides being gay and happily married to partner Jude Belenger, Scarpelli is the son of Henry Scarpelli, who worked for Archie Comics for 40 years, including some strips featuring his famous son, before his death on April 4.
"I think it's awesome. I actually think Archie should have married Jughead in the first place," he laughed. Of Kevin 's debut, he said, "My dad would have liked it, too."
Gay characters are new to Riverdale, but nothing new to comic books. There has been serious and comical speculation about Batman and Robin's relationship ever since psychiatrist Fredric Wertham asserted in his 1954 book, "Seduction of the Innocent," that "Batman stories are psychologically homosexual."
But it wasn't until 1979, when Marvel Comics introduced Northstar in the X-Men, that there was an openly gay superhero. Since then, superhero comics have had more gay characters than other genres.
Lyle Masaki, who focuses on gay and geek culture for AfterElton.com, admits the idea of extremely muscular heroes in skintight costumes has a certain appeal to gays, but that isn't the only explanation.
"Actually, the reason there have been more gay superhero characters in comics is because superheroes are the dominant theme in comics, so there are more opportunities for there to be gay characters," he said.
Because many superhero comics have been long-running titles, Masaki says it's easier to introduce gay characters in existing franchises or to reveal that familiar characters have been gay all along.
A case in point, he says, is the recent revelation that Batwoman, who has been around since the 1950s, is a lesbian.
Archie Comics may be one of the last companies to go gay, but Masaki says they have a real opportunity to break new ground.
"There is a long-standing misconception that sexuality has to be a part of a gay character," Masaki said. "But being gay doesn't have anything to do with sex."
Still, he hopes that the folks who write the scripts for Archie Comics are willing to be bold and not just have Kevin be the token gay.
"One thing I've seen is that Archie has added new characters in an effort to be more diverse, and then struggled to integrate them them into the strips," Masaki said.
As Masaki sees it, the main Archie characters have quirks, i.e. Archie is klutzy, Jughead eats too much and Reggie is conceited. That same willingness to have Kevin be human -- flaws and all -- is crucial to any growth he has as a character.
"We have to see how he develops," Masaki said. "He needs to have something that makes him human. As I understand it, the debut story is more about Veronica's cluelessness."
Ayers agrees that following up with interesting story lines will determine the future of Kevin Keller as a viable character.
"If the editors can't find plots for him, we may see very little of Kevin Keller," Ayers said. "I'm trying to imagine story lines for him -- maybe he could mistake Reggie for being gay -- that character seems very metrosexual."
Masaki hopes Archie Comics are brave enough to have Kevin have some kind of romance, something that has happened in superhero comics featuring gay characters.
"In comics like 'The Runaways' and 'Young Avengers,' there are gay couples and they are treated the same as others," Masaki said. "People don't realize it, but romance is a big part of superhero comics, such as Sue Storm and Reed Richards from 'The Fantastic Four.' I hope the writers see the potential of doing a gay romance Archie-style."
Meanwhile, Archie Comics CEO Jon Goldwater is pleased with the reaction to Kevin Keller and insists he's a permanent part of the Riverdale gang.
"[Having a gay character] is a huge sign of progress," Goldwater said. "The world is a huge melting pot and Riverdale is a reflection of what's going on. It also reflects what is going on in American high schools. Kids are warmer and more accepting than ever."
But are Archie Comics fans? It depends on who you ask.
Longtime Archie fan John Wing says he's OK with the new character, but can't help wishing they did it in another way.
"I think getting Betty and Veronica together would be more entertaining," he said.