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Jennifer Walters in human form but wearing her She-Hulk jumpsuit giving a thumbs up while making a face that could only be described as derpy Image: Marvel Studios

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She-Hulk’s KEVIN is a bizarre Marvel in-joke brought to life

What if... Marvel movies were made by a machine?

With more than 100 hours spread across movies, Disney Plus series, and questionably canonical Netflix shows, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is brimming with GIF-able moments that fuel a collective internet zeitgeist. The memes and moments range from direct pulls (“I understood that reference”) and slightly modified scenes (“I see this as an absolute win”) all the way to full-on remixes that sample from the MCU to create something wholly unique, yet still very much connected.

For my money, there is one MCU reaction GIF that stands above the rest. In just a few looping seconds, it manages to incorporate more than three dozen Marvel moments while placing at its center one of the most influential figures in the MCU, albeit one that has never actually appeared on screen. Because of this, its spread is largely limited to Marvel-centric discussions between those who know — an extremely potent in-joke, yes, but an in-joke nonetheless.

This week’s She-Hulk finale, “Whose Show Is This?”, paid homage to, if not the GIF directly, then to the ethos that inspired it. And it did so with a much larger production budget.

[Ed. note: The rest of this post contains spoilers for the She-Hulk finale.]

The GIF is a work of art. We open on the frowning head of Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, superimposed onto the body of the all-powerful Architect, a pivotal character from 2003’s The Matrix Revolutions. On either side of him are 36 monitors, each playing a different scene from a Marvel movie — and not just the MCU but also X-Men, Deadpool, and even Fantastic Four. It’s the best and worst of its cinematic history, with Spider-Man’s debut in Civil War just two spots away from Vinnie Jones screaming “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch.” Throughout it all, Feige casually wears the Infinity Gauntlet, Marvel’s Mega-MacGuffin for its first 23 interconnected movies, while slowly cracking a top-10 supervillain smile.

The message, for those that don’t remember the Matrix sequels, is that Kevin Feige’s position as the architect of the MCU is more than just a job title; rather, he is a godlike figure who controls the destiny of every single hero, villain, and side character in his universe. In this version, he’s a being whose power exceeds the limits of humanity and requires him to be a highly-advanced intelligence to pull all these strings.

On our side of reality, there’s a grain of truth there. Kevin Feige has long been the final say in virtually every decision for the MCU — the buck-stops-here producer who (almost) always wears a baseball cap and shepherds a record-breaking, money-printing mega-franchise with canonical cohesion. Then there’s the other side of reality, the one where Jennifer Walters is pissed.

We Need to Talk About KEVIN

Back to the She-Hulk finale. (You didn’t think I forgot, did you?) As the episode splinters into incoherence, our hero pushes her ever-expanding, fourth-wall-breaking superpowers to their fullest potential to find out who, indeed, ultimately controls her destiny.

After breaking through the Disney Plus menu and into the studio lot, Walters pleads her case with the She-Hulk writers’ room only to be told in no uncertain terms that “This is the story that Kevin wants.” Kevin is apparently so important, one writer in the room avows a willingness to murder to protect him. For more casual fans, it’s just an absurd little joke — what omnipotent being would be worshipped for his TV-making prowess, and why would he go by a rote mononym like “Kevin”? But Kevin it is, so Walters signs an NDA and fights her way to a non-descript door that houses the One Who Makes the Final Calls.

Kevin’s room in She-Hulk, filled with TV monitors playing Iron Man, Age of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther Image: Marvel Studios

The room Jennifer enters is exactly as the fans joke — a row of over three-dozen monitors playing different moments from Marvel’s history, and an advanced intelligence in the middle of it all. Only this one doesn’t have Kevin’s human face and that mononym is actually an acronym. KEVIN, it turns out, stands for Knowledge Enhanced Visual Interconnectivity Nexus. “Were you expecting a man?” asks the robotic executive.

And so Walters sits down with the one being who can help her out. It’s not the first time that She-Hulk has broken the fourth wall to change her story, nor is it the first time that a Hulk has yelled at a god. But this scene tears into the heart of Marvel storytelling.

Rumors of a Kevin Feige cameo in She-Hulk have been circulating since at least December 2021 in round-up post from the Marvel Studios Spoilers subreddit, a sizable community with an active moderation team that tries to strike a balance between scoop veracity and lulz. As the show aired, those whispers intensified. She-Hulk showrunner Jessica Gao has acknowledged seeing the online chatter, “but I can’t imagine this is how they thought that the cameo would happen.”

The Kevin-as-the-Architect GIF was first uploaded December 13, 2017 in anticipation of Disney’s then-rumored acquisition of Fox, which would be formally announced just a couple days later and return the X-Men movie IP to Marvel. The GIF was created by GIPHY Video Editor Leroy Patterson — a character in his own right, who owns over 4,000 copies of the Xbox 360 classic Sneak King — who emailed me the meme’s origin story:

The moment that leaked the day before Disney had purchased Fox, and all the Mutants were “coming home” to Marvel, I was super excited and, as the senior video editor for Giphy, I wanted to do something to commemorate the moment!

As a huge Marvel and Matrix Nerd, the paring of the two made total sense. It gave me a quick easy visual to work with, and due to all the monitors, let me highlight many of the moments in Marvel Film history that I greatly enjoyed.

It was the first thing that came to mind, and probably took two hours, most of which was sourcing all the clips. I wanted to make sure each franchise at the time was represented. If I made it now, I would have to extend the background for many more monitors!

Patterson continues to produce Marvel memes for GIPHY, including a collaboration with Bosslogic.

Perhaps this is a case of parallel thinking — an all-powerful AI controlling fate is a well-worn trope — but the core idea of both Patterson’s meme and the She-Hulk reveal is derived from an amused exaggeration for Marvel creatives and fans alike. “It was just so funny to make these writers revere Kevin in the way that everyone at Marvel Studios reveres Kevin,” Gao notes in the post-finale write-up. “This is kind of how Kevin is talked about at the studio. I mean, I really drew so much from real life to put into that section of the finale.”

While Feige still hasn’t appeared in the MCU in his flesh-and-blood form, he has made a cameo in the X-Men comics, attending Krakoa’s inaugural Hellfire Gala in a June 2021 issue. And if the uncannily-sketched face didn’t make it clear enough, Feige made sure to wear his own signature supersuit to the event: blazer, no tie, and a baseball cap. In his only line of dialogue, Feige can be seen asking Cyclops for his story. We never find out how he responds, but it doesn’t really matter. After all, it isn’t going to be Cyclops’ show — it’s KEVIN’s.

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