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Archie Comics / DC Comics
Two gay comics characters — Archie Comics’ Kevin Keller and DC Comics’ Batwoman — are getting their own series. Coincidentally, both characters have fathers in the military.
updated 9/23/2011 12:55:25 PM ET 2011-09-23T16:55:25

Last Sunday, a lesbian joked about her sexual orientation as she hosted TV’s highest awards . The next night, a transgendered man cha-chaed on “Dancing with the Stars.” Hours later, a Navy lieutenant and his domestic partner got married the minute the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” went into effect.

And that’s just what happened in the real world. Meanwhile, in Gotham City, a lesbian crimefighter patrols rooftops with her young female sidekick. And in Riverdale, all-American home of perpetual teenager Archie Andrews and his pals, a gay classmate is graduating to his own comic book.

Aren’t comic books supposed to be fantasy?

Not necessarily, according to the publisher of Archie Comics. “This is entertainment, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be inclusive,” Jon Goldwater told TODAY.com. “I am very proud of the fact that we are as close a reflection of the world as we can possibly be.”

Last year, a handsome new student enrolled at Archie Comics’ mythical Riverdale High and caught Veronica’s fickle eye before breaking the news to her that he was gay. Since then, Kevin Keller has developed a fan following and, having starred in a 4-issue miniseries, will graduate to his own ongoing series in February.

And in another Archie comic that peers into the Riverdale gang’s future, it’s revealed that Kevin will get married — to another man. Set to hit newsstands in January, “it’s actually the story I’m proudest of since I’ve been at Archie Comics,” Goldwater said.

Story: Archie Comics unveils gay character
DC Comics
In “Batwoman” No. 1, the lesbian title character, in her civilian identity, flirts with a police detective.

Gay characters are not a complete novelty in mainstream comic books, but they are a relatively recent development: Prior to 1989, the industry’s self-policing Comics Code Authority forbade any reference to homosexuality. The Code was in created in 1954, the same year the Senate held hearings on whether comics encouraged juvenile delinquency — a belief fostered by psychologist Fredric Wertham, who wrote that “Batman stories are psychologically homosexual” and called Wonder Woman “the lesbian equivalent of Batman.”

Wonder Woman may not be a lesbian (even if she does come from an island populated solely by women), but Batwoman is: DC Comics is touting her as “the first LGBT character to star in an eponymous series published by either of America’s Big Two comic book publishers.” According to J.H. Williams III, the comic’s award-winning artist and co-writer, “her being a gay character is not the number one formative aspect; it’s only one aspect.”

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Williams’ writing partner, W. Haden Blackman, said the pair feel “a lot of responsibility to show her in meaningful adult relationships.” So in “Batwoman” No. 1, currently on sale, the Jewish redhead (not to be confused with Batgirl, a separate character with her own series) flirts with a lesbian police detective in her civilian identity in between battling bad guys.

“One of my aunts is a redheaded lesbian; she’s been in a committed relationship for 18 years,” Blackman said. “Seeing how she lives her life has helped.”

Though Batwoman’s crime-ravaged Gotham City and Kevin Keller’s wholesome Riverdale are polar opposites, the two characters share a bond beyond sexual orientation: the military. Kevin’s father is a war hero, and in his future storyline, he’ll become one as well. And Kate Kane (Batwoman’s secret identity) is a colonel’s daughter who was dismissed from West Point under “don’t ask, don’t tell” when she refused to lie about her sexual orientation.

Archie Comics
Kevin Keller, a gay character who stars in his own Archie comic drawn by Dan Parent, is the son of a war hero.

“A lot of my friends came from military backgrounds,” said Blackman, who grew up near a military base. “It really informs who she is — her desire to serve.”

At Thursday’s Republican presidential debate, a gay soldier drew boos from the audience when he asked the candidates if they would “circumvent the progress that has been made for gay and lesbian soldiers” by reinstating “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Similarly, Peter Spriggs of the Family Research Council, a Christian lobbying group, deplored the “obvious social and political agenda” of Archie Comics’ gay marriage storyline, telling Fox News that “a comic book series usually seen as depicting innocent, all-American life is now being used to advance the sexual revolution.”

Video: GOP debate audience boos gay service member

“We do not have a political agenda in any way, shape or form, but we do have a social agenda, frankly,” Archie publisher Goldwater said in response. “I will admit to unconditionally making certain that people of every race, creed and color are represented in Archie Comics.

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“Thankfully, by and large the reaction has been overwhelmingly popular, but some people don’t like it,” Goldwater added. “You just have to understand that’s going to come with this and not take it personally.”

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As for DC’s Batwoman, Goldwater said: “I think they should be proud of it, but we paved the road; we had the courage to be out front.”

Even so, Williams and Blackman do not shy away from the notion that Batwoman could become a gay icon in much the same way Wonder Woman has been adopted as a symbol of the feminist movement. But, Blackman, said, “the danger of labeling a character an icon is that there’s a tendency to not have them evolve or show weakness — it’s a really fine line to walk.”

“To show her as a real person as much as possible — to me that’s a much more powerful statement,” Williams agreed. The goal, he said, is to craft “a story that anyone could relate to, regardless of sexual orientation.”

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Photos: From comic pages to big screen, what makes the cut?

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  1. 5 comics that should (and 5 that shouldn’t) be movies

    As superhero movies continue to pack moviegoers in the aisles and their stars court fans at Comic-Con in San Diego, here's a look at five comic franchises the studios have somehow overlooked -- and five they should have.

    Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and Iron Man all have had multiple movies, yet comics' most iconic female figure has never had even one live-action, big-screen portrayal. A script by Joss Whedon (of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fame) never came to fruition, and a promised Warner Bros. movie is still at least two years away. Do we smell super-sexism? Maybe the Amazon princess hit the glass ceiling in her invisible plane. (DC Comics) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Catwoman (2004)

    Doubtless inspired by Michelle Pfeiffer's memorable turn as the ultimate cat lady in "Batman Returns" (1992), French director Jean-Christophe "Pitof" Comar upped the ante by casting the uber-sexy Halle Berry as the title character in 2004's "Catwoman," but still somehow managed to cough up one hairball of a movie. The narrative has little or nothing to do with the classic Batman villainess (her age-old alter-ego "Selina Kyle" is jettisoned in favor of mousey "Patience Phillips," for instance). And while visually striking in her leather get-up, Berry is so unconvincing that she earned a Worst Actress Golden Raspberry award -- which she bravely accepted in person. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
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  4. The Punisher (1989, 2004, 2008)

    Deliciously devoid of even the slightest shred of compassion, Marvel's gun-toting, grimacing antihero The Punisher is precisely the type of comic book character that gives parents pause, given that he's more like Charles Bronson in "Death Wish" than mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent. So, while not the ideal comic book for Junior to be thumbing through, he seemed perfect for the big screen. Yet three attempts have ...er... backfired. The 1989 adaptation starring the wooden Dolph Rundgren was tepidly cheesy and went straight to video. A 2004 version starring chiseled Tom Jane (left) as the vigilante was more faithful, but crumpled under the weight of its own humorlessness. As for "Punisher: War Zone" from 2008, the less said the better. The silver lining? The franchise seems to be finally out of ammo. (Artisan Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. The New Teen Titans

    Though the original Teen Titans were a superhero team in their own right in the 1960s , DC Comics’ New Teen Titans made their mark in the early 1980s as yin to the yang of Marvel Comics’ wildly popular X-men. No longer relegated to trailing behind Batman’s cape, Robin leads the show here, flanked by other super-sidekicks like Wonder Girl, Kid Flash and new characters like Cyborg, Raven and Starfire. Though possibly lacking the tortured mutant pathos of their Marvel counterparts, the New Titans exuded their fair share of emotional turmoil via the soulfully complex conscience of gloomy empath Raven and the youthful warrior’s rage of alien Starfire, a scantily-clad doppelganger of the X-men’s volatile Phoenix.

    The New Titans have made it to the small screen via an animated series, and there are rumors of a live-action series about Raven. But there’s no reason they couldn't transition to the big screen with the same success as the X-Men, whose franchise is going strong after five films. (DC Comics) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Howard the Duck (1986)

    Originally the hero of a clever comic book about a talking duck from another dimension who’s trapped in a world he never made, Howard became trapped in a movie that never should have been made when this bloated mess came out. Though it was produced by Star Wars creator George Lucas, it is considered by many to be one of the worst films ever made.

    What went wrong? For one thing, Howard was played by various little people in unconvincing duck suits (here's one with Lea Thompson, whose career somehow survived). Today he would be probably be portrayed in CGI – and it still wouldn’t work. Some comic books just belong staying comic books. (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. The Inhumans

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  8. Jonah Hex (2010)

    You have to wonder how the Warner Bros. pitch meeting about this turkeyburger must have gone. “Hey, here’s an idea: With superhero movies making zillions, let’s ignore all the beloved characters our DC Comics division owns. Instead, let’s make a western based a second-tier comic with a hideously disfigured antihero. Yeah, that’ll work.”

    It didn’t; critics ambushed the bloody western starring Josh Brolin as a supernatural gunfighter. Even Megan Fox as a lovestruck prostitute couldn’t help; audiences stayed away in droves and tie-in toys gathered dust in warehouses. Almost as if Harry Potter or Doctor Strange had put a hex on it. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Milk & Cheese

    From the twisted mind of writer/artist Evan Dorkin, cult favorites Milk & Cheese are two pint-size -- literally -- dairy products who were first unleashed on an unsuspecting comic underground in the late 1980s. Driven by a fondness for booze and a rampant appetite for violence and mayhem, the anthropomorphic carton of milk and diminutive wedge of cheese giddily run afoul of all semblance of decency. Though Dorkin has reportedly turned down all offers to turn the nihilistic duo into cartoon or movie stars, there is a deluxe hardcover anthology slated for December 2011. The perfect holiday gift! (SLG Publishing) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The Spirit (2008)

    If you think what Paz Vega has in mind for Gabriel Macht in this still from the big-screen adaptation of Will Eisner’s 1940s newspaper comic strip is bad, it’s downright merciful compared to what the critics did to it. Eisner, inventor of the graphic novel and a bona fide comics legend, deserved far better than to have his masked crimefighter sullied by this almost universally panned stinker: “To call the characters cardboard is to insult a useful packing material,” Roger Ebert wrote. (Lionsgate) Back to slideshow navigation
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