Archie Andrews, a staple of American comics since 1941, will die in Wednesday's issue of Life with Archie. And he'll say goodbye to the series with one last act of heroism: Archie will take a bullet meant for best friend Kevin Keller, the first openly gay character in his comic universe. In doing so, he'll foil an assassination attempt against Keller and, according to the story's creators, give rise to greater understanding and tolerance in his fictional town of Riverdale. The final issue arrives as many Americans continue to work tirelessly on behalf of gay rights and to extend marriage equality across the US.
"He dies selflessly," said Jon Goldwater, Archie Comics publisher and co-CEO, speaking to the Associated Press. "He dies in the manner that epitomizes not only the best of Riverdale but the best of all of us." Archie Comics first revealed that Andrews' death would mark the conclusion of Life with Archie back in April. The comic is a flash-forward series that catches up with Archie and his friends long after their high school and college days.
A character celebrated by fans and gay rights activists
Kevin Keller was introduced to Riverdale in Veronica issue 202 almost four years ago. That issue proved so popular that Archie Comics needed to order a reprint — the first in its 70-year history. Created by artist Dan Parent, military brat Keller was featured in a four-issue miniseries and went on to headline his own comic. Kevin Keller earned the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book in 2013, according to Rolling Stone.
But he's also been a regular in Life with Archie; an issue celebrating Keller's marriage was released in 2012. In the storyline, Keller meets his husband at a military hospital while both are active servicemen. "The world of Riverdale has to reflect contemporary culture and to show it is an accepting, diverse place," Parent said at the time. One Million Moms, an anti-gay group, went on to boycott the gay wedding issue. That real-life protest inspired Parent to take things further in the comic and give Kevin Keller his first on-panel kiss last year in a story arc that mocked the right-wing group.
Wednesday's finale finds Keller as a newly elected senator fighting for tighter gun-control laws. The gun epidemic comes to Keller's attention after his husband is shot trying to thwart an in-progress robbery. Archie Comics isn't identifying who the assassin is before readers see it in print, however. The following issue will jump ahead one year and show fans how Archie's friends and Riverdale honor the red-haired comic icon after his heroic death. "Archie is not a superhero like all the rest of the comic book characters," Goldwater told the Associated Press. "If anything, I think his death is more impactful because of that. We hope by showing how something so violent can happen to Archie, that we can — in some way — learn from him."