I Really Hope Kevin Feige Watches The People’s Joker

The wildest superhero movie of the year has a vital lesson for Marvel and DC.

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - JULY 23: Kevin Feige speaks onstage at the Marvel Cinematic Universe Mega-Pa...
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It’s been a rough year for superhero movies, and it’s likely only going to get worse. For unrelated reasons, Marvel and DC both pumped the breaks in 2024, committing to just one major theatrical release each with Deadpool & Wolverine this summer, followed by Joker: Folie à Deux in October. Meanwhile, Sony is taking full advantage of the situation by pumping out an endless stream of Spider-Man-less spinoff movies seemingly made for you to fall asleep to while watching them on a plane. But amid what either feels like a rare blip in an unstoppable march or the beginning of the end of the superhero genre, an unlikely hero emerges from the shadows of Gotham City.

Despite Warner Bros. Discovery’s best efforts, indie superhero satire The People’s Joker began its theatrical run last week. And aside from some confused DC fans who seem to think this is the official sequel to 2019’s Joker, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. The New Yorker’s film critic Richard Brody even called it “the best superhero movie I’ve ever seen.” (To be fair, Brody’s seemingly never seen a Marvel movie he didn’t hate, but still.)

But the person who really needs to watch The People’s Joker isn’t Brody, it’s Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige. Here’s why.

Vera Drew wrote, directed, and stars in The People’s Joker.

Altered Innocence

From first-time filmmaker Vera Drew, The People’s Joker is a trans coming-of-age comedy told through the lens of a comic book origin story. The protagonist is a trans woman who grows up in Smallville, Kansas, and gets treated for body dysmorphia with a stimulant called Smylex prescribed by one Dr. Crane (aka the Batman villain Scarecrow).

Our hero then moves to a dystopian version of Gotham City patrolled by Bat-drones. Once there, she attempts to join this universe’s version of Saturday Night LiveThe People’s Joker is also an SNL takedown, featuring a naked CGI Lorne Michaels voiced by Maria Bamford — but instead winds up starting her own underground comedy club. She rebrands as “The People’s Joker,” becomes romantically involved with another trans comedian called Mr. J, defeats Lorne Michaels, and ultimately manages to make peace with her traumatic childhood.

In the end, The People’s Joker is barely even about the DC Universe at all — even if Vera Drew clearly knows the source material she’s riffing on. Rather, the movie remixes plot devices, characters, and tropes that we’re all extremely familiar with to tell a story that many people have likely never seen before. In the process, it becomes an entirely new type of superhero movie that pushes the entire genre into exciting new territory. Here’s where Kevin Feige comes in.

The People’s Joker lampoons Joker’s iconic stair scene.

Altered Innocence

Now, I’m not trying to argue that DC and Marvel need to release trans-superhero movies of their own — although I’m not saying they shouldn’t do that either. Instead, the lesson of The People’s Joker for people like Kevin Feige and DC Studios boss James Gunn needs to be that superhero movies can’t just exist to make more superhero movies. That assembly line is already starting to break down and it’s on the verge of irreparable damage.

We may already be seeing a pivot in this direction, if not a permanent one. DC’s only movie in 2024 is a jukebox musical loosely based on the story of Batman’s archenemy. Meanwhile, Marvel’s big push for 2024 is a movie about a superhero whose powers include the ability to break the fourth wall and make an R-rated MCU flick. But as far as these studios are concerned, 2024 isn’t the new normal, it’s a brief reset before getting back to business.

That strategy will probably pay off financially — although who knows, maybe the entire thing will crash and burn — but it’d be a shame if Kevin Feige and James Gunn don’t take at least a little inspiration from the unbridled, joyful weirdness that is The People’s Joker. Otherwise, we may just look back at 2024 as the last year that superhero movies were interesting.

The People’s Joker is in theaters now.

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