As the Marvel Cinematic Universe pushes back its next slate of films and faces the challenge of recasting its planned multi-movie major villain, fans can still see characters from its vast pool of comic book-inspired superpowered individuals on the small screen. After Secret Invasion and Season Two of Loki and What If…? populated a sparse 2023, the new year kicks off with a series focused on a character first introduced in Hawkeye, whose background sets her apart from her multiversal colleagues in an intriguing and welcome way.
Alaqua Cox returns as Maya Lopez, a Native American who is deaf and previously crossed paths with Clint Barton and Kate Bishop during the 2021 Hawkeye series. Her backstory figures heavily into the first episode, which explains her complicated relationship with her father William (Zahn McClarnon), her uncle Henry (Chaske Spencer), and her grandmother Chula (Tantoo Cardinal). Her connections with the Tracksuit Mafia and Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), better known as Kingpin, make her a target of law enforcement, but she’s certainly meant to be the hero of this story.
Echo is probably best compared to Ms. Marvel from the slate of MCU TV series due to its heavy focus on Lopez’s Choctaw heritage and her connection with her ancestors. Like that show and Moon Knight, there is a fair deal of mythical magic incorporated that fuses the past with the present in a jarring way. Compared with Kamala Khan or Marc Spector, Lopez feels least startled by the introduction of inexplicable links to people she could never have met and abilities that go along with them. Their potential is also not fully defined, but Lopez is more than capable of taking care of herself.
Audiences who tune in to Echo simply because it’s a Marvel property will be pleased to see several recognizable faces from past MCU projects in the first episode, but will likely lose interest after that if they’re watching solely due to its existence as an extension of a world they love. This show leans hard into its specific mythology and aims to understand Echo as a character and her ethnic background as something that has shaped and currently defines her. Her identity is as central to the show as anything else, and certainly more so than the tie-in to the larger television universe. This is the first official entry of the Marvel Spotlight brand, whose purported aim is to bring “more grounded, character-driven stories to the screen” and emphasizes that “viewers don’t have to watch any other Marvel series to understand the plot.”
Showcasing a lead character who is deaf also gives this show a unique appeal, since most friendly faces sign so that they can communicate with Lopez, and the way in which she experiences the world is shown and felt visually. Fight sequences pause midway through to zoom in on her perspective, and she conveys what she can comprehend when she sees people talking around her even if she can’t read their lips or know for sure what exactly they’re saying. The way in which she is framed and how the show functions as an extension of the way she walks through the world is impressive enough on its own, regardless of the story substance around it. It’s refreshing to see actress Shoshannah Stern on the writing team, providing a piece of her own lived experience as a deaf person.
Echo has also made headlines as the first Marvel Studios series on Disney+ to earn a TV-MA rating, though little about the first three episodes provided for review feels all that extreme. It’s certainly no darker or more violent than the six Netflix series that make up the Defenders Saga. There is considerable action and decent fight choreography, but the themes are no more sinister or disturbing than many of the unsettling origin stories previously featured for existing characters, particularly in the Kingpin-adjacent space.
Cox is a very capable lead, and she’s supported by reliable players like McClarnon, Chaske, and Cardinal, who has a major role in Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon. This excellent example of positive Native representation has the potential to bring in an entirely new audience unfamiliar with the MCU and to catch a cross-section eager to see themselves finally on screen who already love Marvel. Releasing all five episodes at once is a new route for Disney+, but the Defenders Saga did just fine, giving eager audiences the opportunity to binge quickly. The first three episodes show potential, even if this idea isn’t fully realized just yet, and two more might be just what it needs to truly find its voice.
Awards Potential: Tech nominations at the Creative Arts Emmys
Renewability: Echo could easily appear in the forthcoming Daredevil: Born Again, but a Season Two is unlikely.
Overall Score: B
All five episodes of Echo will debut on Disney+ and Hulu, beginning Weds. Jan. 10.
Principal Cast: Alaqua Cox, Chaske Spencer, Graham Greene, Tantoo Cardinal, Devery Jacobs, Zahn McClarnon, Cody Lightning, Vincent D’Onofrio
Showrunner: Marion Dayre
Directors: Sydney Freeland, Catriona McKenzie
Writers: Marion Dayre, Amy Rardin, Ken Kristensen, Shoshannah Stern
Producers: Marvel Studios
DP: Kira Kelly, Magdalena Gorka
Costume Design: Ambre Wrigley, Stacy Caballero
Editor: Joel Pashby, Amelia Allwarden
Score: Dave Porter, Mato Standing Soldier