Echo: The Beginning of Marvel Renaissance?

Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Marvel Studios' Echo, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick. ©Marvel Studios 2023. All Rights Reserved.

The following review contains some spoilers for Echo Season 1

Stunning. Every shot is a visual spectacle. Every wave of sound is intentional and narratively impactful.

I had an inkling I was going to enjoy Echo since the show was announced. I may not be a comic book fan following Maya Lopez’s story, but I knew when she bounced onto our screens in 2021’s Hawkeye that something big was coming.

Wilson Fisk and Maya Lopez sit at a table looking at each other in Echo
(L-R): Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin and Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Marvel Studios’ ECHO, releasing on Hulu and Disney+. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick. © 2023 MARVEL.

It’s baffling that Maya Lopez is Alaqua Cox‘s first credit. Her talent is impeccable and she does it all through her facial and body language since being deaf means she rarely communicates vocally. Despite Cox’s resting stone cold face, she shows the audience her emotions and intent with the use of her eyes, brow, neck, the way she stands, leans in or away. There is so much more we pay attention to without relying on the voice to tell us what she means. The use of sign language slows conversations down and allows for characters to reveal more or contemplate words and feelings before signing. It’s amazing how this element pushes storytelling into new areas and techniques.

Echo is an excellent story. A Choctaw Nation story. And like traditional North American aboriginal oral tales, or novels and films by aboriginal artists, Echo uses an origin story to weave the themes of Maya’s journey to. The origin story of the true Choctaw people is that they come from Nanih Waiya, a sacred hill or mound in Mississippi. Marvel’s Choctaw people originate from a group of ancestors who emerged from a cave empowered by the spring water of that sacred place.

Maya Lopez sits in the driver's seat of a truck with an arm out the window
Devery Jacobs as Bonnie in Marvel Studios’ Echo, releasing on Hulu and Disney+. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick. ©Marvel Studios 2024. All Rights Reserved.

Not only does this invoke a traditional story structure from North American indigenous peoples but it also allows for Marvel to stretch this origin to include the foundation of Maya Lopez and her family’s unique power shown in the finale.

Most of the short five-episode series follows the rough Hells Kitchen reality built in Netflix’s Daredevil and Disney+’s Hawkeye. Maya is involved with Kingpin, aka Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), and his mafia-esque business/life. Maya sees Fisk as a father figure and a mentor after her father’s death. Of course, if you’ve seen Hawkeye, then you know Clint (Jeremy Renner) tells Maya that Fisk is the one who called the hit on Maya’s father (Zahn McClarnon) and at the end of the series, Maya shoots Fisk.

Echo takes place mere hours or days after the events of 2021’s Hawkeye, and Maya is fleeing New York City with a major target on her back. She brings this mess back with her to Tahoma, Oklahoma, her hometown, where she hasn’t set foot in 20 years. With all that set up in a 50-minute first episode, we know Maya is facing not only a bounty but also the wrath of her estranged family.

People sit in chairs around a fire
(L-R): Zahn McClarnon as William Lopez, Devery Jacobs as Bonnie, Graham Greene as Skully, and Tantoo Cardinal as Chula Battiest in Marvel Studios’ Echo, eleasing on Hulu and Disney+. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick. ©Marvel Studios 2023. All Rights Reserved.

The series features some amazing native talent, with Canadian treasures Tantoo Cardinal and Graham Greene playing major roles and faces you’ll recognize from Reservation Dogs and Rutherford Falls—Devery Jacobs, Zahn McClarnon, Jana Schmieding and Dallas Goldtooth, among many others.

I love how much we see Tantoo and Graham; they’re two of my favourite actors, and they have impeccable chemistry. I was disappointed at how little I saw Devery Jacobs, though. Devery plays Bonnie, Maya’s cousin and best friend, although at this point they haven’t spoken in years. Considering Devery voices another hero in What If…?, I thought there would be a crossover or something with Kahhori, but it appears to me as though Devery is playing an entirely different character here. That wouldn’t be a first for Marvel, as Chaske Spencer, who plays Henry—Maya’s uncle and member of Fisk’s corporation—was also in Marvel’s Jessica Jones series, playing a character named Jace. Seeds or oversight? Hard to say with the MCU these days.

With Maya returning to her hometown, we’re greeted by her cousin Biscuits (Cody Lightning), who acts as a sloppy sidekick you grow to love. Quickly, we’re introduced to a dysfunctional family dynamic due to Maya’s grandmother, Chula (Tantoo Cardinal), and her 20-year grudge. As the matriarch of Maya’s family and an elder among the other townsfolk, Chula holds key ancestral knowledge and a communication line to the founding figures of their people. Throughout Echo’s origin story, there are flashbacks to other women who have harnessed this ancestral power of Marvel’s Choctaw people that also serve as dreams or visions to Maya. In the culminating finale, we see Maya embrace her Choctaw heritage proudly and use this power to defeat Fisk.

Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez on her motorbike looking to camera
Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Marvel Studios’ Echo, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick. ©Marvel Studios 2023. All Rights Reserved.

However, what I found most refreshing about this scene between Fisk and Maya was the level of emotional battle that takes place. Yes, there is an action-packed climax, but ultimately, the showdown between Kingpin and Echo is about forgiveness and the power to move on. In the end, it’s as though Fisk is too stunned to rebel against Maya’s wisdom. It shows how deeply Fisk desires family and how Maya’s companionship and growth, despite being inconvenient for Fisk’s criminal activity, filled his need for a time. Inevitably, it is respect that makes Kingpin walk away from this fight, which is a different sentiment for Marvel. This villain wasn’t beaten per se; he was educated.

As for the fighting, Echo has lots of it, and they do not shy away from showcasing Maya as an amputee and using that to her advantage. It was also interesting to see how being deaf affects these fight scenes. In Daredevil, there is a focus on his sense of super-hearing and vibrations. Echo has a bit of the opposite where, from her perspective, everything goes silent, and she can visually pick up on all the things to her advantage.

Echo has a long list of writers, with some returning from the Netflix Marvel era with Daredevil, Jessica Jones or Punisher credits. We may owe them our thanks for bringing such grounded storytelling back to the MCU. Steven Judd, a Kiowa and Choctaw writer, joined the team, and producer Douglas Ridloff, a deaf poet who consulted on The Eternals and A Quiet Place, helped keep Echo authentic to Maya’s intersectional identity. The directors are indigenous: Sydney Freeland is Native American (Navajo), and Catriona McKenzie is Indigenous Australian. At the end of the finale, there is a thank you card to the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma for their cooperation in the making of the series. It appears, despite my doubts, Marvel is taking many strides toward diversity and inclusion with their projects, and it is awe-inspiring to see.

Written by Isobel Grieve

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