With Marvel’s first Deaf and Indigenous hero embarking on her first solo adventure, Echo is poised to make history. The series follows anti-hero Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox) on a revenge-fueled origin story — but the importance of Maya’s journey extends far beyond the street-level corners of Marvel’s cinematic universe.
Technically, Echo is designed to sire a brand-new offshoot of the MCU. It’s the first series to premiere under Marvel’s new Spotlight imprint, inspired by the anthology series from Marvel comics. Not only will the Spotlight shows usher “more grounded, character-driven stories” into the MCU, according to Marvel streaming exec Brad Winderbaum, they’ll also help launch an entirely new branch of the franchise.
“Just like comics fans didn’t need to read Avengers or Fantastic Four to enjoy a Ghost Rider Spotlight comic, our audience doesn’t need to have seen other Marvel series to understand what’s happening in Maya’s story,” Winderbaum told Marvel.com.
Echo is meant to stand entirely on its own, as are the series that follow it, like Daredevil: Born Again. Now that it’s officially streaming on Disney+ and Hulu, though, is Echo really fulfilling that promise?
Spoilers for Echo follow.
Echo struggles to establish a strong footing right from the start, and that has everything to do with its connections to other Marvel shows. It’s not quite as reliant on its predecessors as, say, The Marvels, but the new series does not exist in a vacuum. Echo is a direct spinoff of Hawkeye, a series that few fans tuned into, despite its many crossovers. Not only did Hawkeye introduce Maya, but it brought Daredevil villain Wilson Fisk (aka Kingpin) out of Netflix’s Defenders-verse and into the MCU proper.
Hawkeye’s third episode, “Echoes,” was technically an origin story for Maya, establishing her relationship with Fisk and her thirst for revenge. The Hawkeye finale featured a showdown between Maya and Kingpin, but it also made sure to leave the door open for a rematch.
Echo, meanwhile, picks up right where Hawkeye left off — but not before rehashing the events of the 2021 series. Its first episode is essentially a “Previously On...” segment that weaves key scenes from Hawkeye through Maya’s larger backstory. We learn exactly how she lost her leg, how she lost her father (Zahn McClarnon), and how she fell in with Fisk — we even get a glimpse of her first run-in with Daredevil (Charlie Cox).
Repurposing Hawkeye’s most important moments for Echo is a smart move on paper: it allows casual fans to tune in without the dreaded need for “homework.” The problem is, it comes off as an utter mess, entirely disconnected from the emotional context of the original series. Hawkeye’s most crucial scenes are truncated for the sake of time, and that robs newcomers of a more intimate understanding of Maya as a character. Her previously-established relationships lack any necessary substance; her dynamic with her father might suffer the most.
Not even Fisk gets a proper introduction: he appears, shrouded in mystery, to inspire a vaguely-defined quest for vengeance. Those tuning in to Echo without having seen Hawkeye — or even Daredevil, which built Fisk up as an unshakeable antagonist — may be left without a strong impression of his character. Seeing as he’s been positioned as the Thanos of this street-level universe, this doesn’t exactly prime Spotlight for success.
With that shaky start, the series is already facing an uphill battle. Echo’s first episode didn’t do quite enough to entice casual viewers to return — and with Marvel rapidly running out of goodwill elsewhere, audiences may be less inclined to sit through the rest of the season. It helps that Disney dropped all five episodes of Echo at once, to give it the best chance of success. But its experiment with Spotlight already seems to be backfiring: after 15 years of interconnected storytelling, an entirely standalone universe might not be a possibility.