Kevin Keller: Drive Me Crazy

By Dan Parent, Bill Galvan, Rich Koslowski & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-58-7 (TPB)

Following the debut of Superman, MLJ were merely one of many publishers to jump on the mystery-man bandwagon, generating their own small but inspired pantheon of gaudily-clad crusaders.

In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, and swiftly followed up with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the era’s standard mix of masked champions, clean-cut, two-fisted adventurers, genre prose pieces and gags.

Not long after, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in the blossoming yet crowded market. In December 1941 the Fights ‘n’ Tights, heaving he-man crowd were gently nudged aside by a far less imposing hero; an ordinary teenager having everyday adventures just like the readership, laden with companionable laughs, good times and budding romance.

Goldwater developed the youthful everyman protagonist concept, tasking writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with making it all work. Inspired by and referencing the successful Andy Hardy movies (starring Mickey Rooney), their new notion premiered in Pep Comics #22. The unlikely star was a gap-toothed, freckle-faced, red-headed kid desperate to impress the pretty blonde girl next door.

A 6-page untitled tale introduced hapless boob Archie Andrews and wholesomely fetching Betty Cooper. The boy’s wry, unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that vignette, as did idyllic small-town utopia Riverdale. The piece was a huge hit with readers and by the winter of 1942 the kid had won his own series and latterly a solo-starring title.

Archie Comics #1 was MLJ’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began an inexorable transformation of the company. With the debut of ultra-rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon…

By 1946, the kids were in charge and MLJ officially reinvented itself as Archie Comics, retiring the majority of its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age to become, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family-friendly comedies.

The hometown settings and perpetually fruitful premise of an Eternal Romantic Triangle – with girl-hating Jughead to assist or deter and scurrilous love-rat rival Reggie Mantle to test, duel and vex our boy in their own unique ways – the scenario was one that not only resonated with fans, but was somehow infinitely fresh and engaging…

Like Superman, Archie’s success forced a change in content at every other US publisher (except Gilberton’s dryly po-faced Classics Illustrated), creating a culture-shifting multi-media brand encompassing TV, movies, newspaper strips, toys and merchandise, a chain of restaurants and – in the swinging sixties – a pop music sensation when Sugar, Sugar (taken from the animated TV cartoon) became a global summer smash hit. Clean and decent garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since just waiting for the comeback hit…

The perennial eternal triangle has generated thousands of charming, raucous, gentle, thrilling, chiding and even heart-rending humorous dramas expressing everything from surreal wit to frantic, frenetic slapstick, with the kids and a constantly expanding cast of friends (boy genius Dilton Doily; genial giant jock Big Moose and occasional guest Sabrina the Teenage Witch amongst so many others): growing into a national institution and part of America’s cultural landscape.

The feature thrives by constantly refreshing its core archetypes; boldly, seamlessly adapting to a changing world outside its bright and cheerful pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture, fashion trends and even topical events into its infallible mix of comedy and young romance. Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix and over the decades the company has confronted most social issues affecting youngsters in a manner both even-handed and tasteful.

Constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck Clayton and his girlfriend Nancy Woods, fashion-diva Ginger Lopez, Hispanic couple Frankie Valdez and Maria Rodriguez, student film-maker Raj Patel and spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom all contributed to a wide, refreshingly diverse and broad-minded scenario.

In 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle – for decades a seemingly insurmountable one for kids comicbooks – when openly gay student Kevin Keller joined the gang: becoming an admirable advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream comics.

Created by writer/artist Dan Parent and inker Rich Koslowski, Kevin Keller debuted in Veronica #202 (September 2010), a charming, good-looking and exceedingly-together young man who utterly bowled over the rich go-getter. Ronnie was totally smitten with him, but Kevin was far more interested in food, sports and hanging out with Jughead

When he finally explained to Veronica why she was wasting her time, she became Keller’s best buddy as they had so much in common – stylish clothes, shopping and cute guys…

Immensely popular from the outset (Veronica #202 was the first comic book in the company’s long history to go into a second printing), Kevin struck a chord with the readership. Soon, frequent guest shots evolved into a miniseries before the new kid on the block inevitably won his own ongoing title.

Trade paperback & digital compilation Kevin Keller: Drive Me Crazy collects issues #5-8 of his groundbreaking solo title and opens with an effusive Introduction from actor, author and rights activist George Takei, in anticipation of his walk-on part in the opening chapter here.

Sacrificing chronological order for star attraction, ‘By George!’ comes from Kevin Keller #6 (January 2013) wherein a class project about inspirational heroes leads to the kids invading a local comic convention headlined by the Star Trek star, after which Mr. Takei surprises all concerned by returning the favour at Riverdale High. If only Kevin wasn’t so distracted by the return of old flame Brian and the promise of new romance…

Eponymous tale ‘Drive Me Crazy!’ (Kevin Keller #5 December 2012) then targets the next milestone in a young man’s life as the affable pedestrian finally gains independence with the arrival of his first car. It is, in fact, an old jeep belonging to his dad (a retired army colonel) and the fun really hits high gear after Moose and Dilton offer to spruce it up and make it roadworthy in their own inimitable manner… just in time to play havoc with Kevin’s date with old pal Todd.

Back on track for #7 (March, 2013), ‘Decisions, decisions!’ finds Kevin dating aggressive bad boy Devon: a student determined to keep his status as a macho hetero male. Patience, love and understanding only go so far though, and when Kevin convinces Devon to finally come out, the misunderstood lout faces repercussions from his family and friends that Kevin never anticipated…

Piling on the pressure, an old secret admirer who remained anonymous chooses this moment to identify himself to the ever-popular Mr. Keller…

Everything boils over in concluding episode ‘Play by the Rules!’ (Kevin Keller #8, June 2013) when Veronica cons Kevin into starring in her self-penned stage drama Teenagers: The Musical! His proximity to former secret admirer Pauldrives Devon to jealousy and stalking, but thankfully in the unavoidable denouement, the only real casualty is Ronnie’s atrocity of a show…

Following the compelling comics is an ‘Official Kevin Keller Bonus Features’ section offering ‘Kevin, Betty and Veronica Fashions’, to supplement a cover gallery that includes modern cartoon masterpieces, remastered classic Archie images retrofitted to suit our 21st century all-star and variant covers spoofing Star Trek and Superman.

Drive Me Crazy is superbly diverse, hilariously welcoming and magically inclusive collection for you, your kids and grandparents to enjoy over and over again…
© 2013 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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