It’s no secret that 2023 was a rough year for Marvel Studios. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and The Marvels were disappointments at the box office, with the latter film ending its theatrical run as the lowest-grossing MCU movie of all time. Loki had a strong second season on Disney+, but Secret Invasion was one of the worst (and least viewed) TV series the studio has produced thus far. And the actor who was chosen to be the leading supervillain of the entire Multiverse Saga, Jonathan Majors, was fired in December after a Manhattan jury found him guilty of reckless assault and harassment.
With the release of Echo on Tuesday, Marvel Studios aims to start the new year with a new approach to its TV programming. The five-episode series is both the first Marvel Studios show to drop all at once and the first project to bear the new “Marvel Spotlight” banner. This new designation is a product of the studio’s efforts to create a platform for character-driven stories that aren’t tethered to the main continuity of the MCU so that viewers can follow along without having to catch up on potentially dozens of movies and TV shows. Echo will also be the first Marvel Studios series to debut on Hulu in addition to Disney+ and the first to receive a TV-MA rating due to its heightened use of violence.
Despite the Marvel Spotlight banner, Echo is a spinoff of Hawkeye, as the new series follows Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox) as she flees New York City after shooting Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), who is also set to return. (Fisk may have gotten shot in the face during the Hawkeye finale, but don’t worry, he seems fine!) Joining Cox and D’Onofrio in the cast are Chaske Spencer (The English), Tantoo Cardinal (Killers of the Flower Moon), Cody Lightning (Four Sheets to the Wind), Zahn McClarnon (Hawkeye), Graham Greene (Dances With Wolves), and Devery Jacobs (Reservation Dogs), the last of whom is coming off her recent performance as the voice of Kahhori in the second season of What If…? With Marion Dayre (Better Call Saul) serving as head writer and Sydney Freeland (Reservation Dogs) leading the show’s directing team, Echo will further explore Maya’s superhero origins and Choctaw roots.
Ahead of the show’s bingeable release this week, here’s everything you need to know about Maya’s introduction in Hawkeye, her comic book history, and the new Marvel Spotlight banner.
Previously on … Hawkeye
It’s been more than two years since Hawkeye concluded over the 2021 holiday season, but Echo is set to pick up right where Maya’s story left off. Although Hawkeye centered on the arrow-slinging duo of Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), the series also served as an introduction to Maya Lopez, better known as Echo.
The opening of the third episode of Hawkeye, “Echoes,” is effectively a condensed origin story for Lopez, as the series departs from its main story line to depict her childhood and her relationship with her father. The episode begins with a young Maya in school as she tries to adapt to her classes without being able to hear her teacher. Maya, who was born deaf (as was Cox), grew up learning how to observe those around her and replicate their movements with extraordinary precision. One flashback to Maya’s childhood shows her in a karate class, studying the moves of a classmate before reproducing them to perfection to take down a much larger opponent.
Crucially, “Echoes” also establishes Maya’s connections to Fisk and to Barton, the latter of whom killed Maya’s father during his darker days as Ronin, an alter ego he originally adopted in Avengers: Endgame to take his anger out on criminals after the loss of his family. William Lopez (McClarnon) worked for Fisk’s Tracksuit Mafia crime organization, and an adult Maya finds him in his dying moments after the group’s run-in with Barton. Maya then begins working for Fisk, whom Maya grew up around and always referred to as her uncle. By the time of Hawkeye’s present-day story line, Lopez has climbed the ranks to become the leader of the Tracksuit Mafia.
When Barton confronts Lopez in the fifth episode, he reveals to her that Fisk, as well as another Tracksuit Mafia member named Kazi (Fra Fee), played a part in setting up her father on the night that he was killed. As a result, Maya returns in the season finale to kill Kazi and shoot Fisk, even as Kingpin reminds her that they’re “family.” Of course, the camera conveniently cuts away just as the bullet is fired from Maya’s gun. All that we can hear is a gunshot and the sound of a body hitting the pavement.
Teasers for Echo have already made one thing completely clear: Kingpin is not dead. D’Onofrio’s infamous Daredevil villain takes on a bigger role in the new series after appearing in only one episode of Hawkeye (though his return was teased for most of the season). To escape the clutches of Fisk’s criminal empire, Maya heads back to her hometown in Oklahoma to reconnect with her real family.
“When we come into [Echo], we’re going to learn that Maya has two families: She’s got her family in Oklahoma, she’s got her family in New York,” director and executive producer Sydney Freeland said on the Women of Marvel podcast in November. “And those two things are at odds with each other. She’s going to come into the series very clearly knowing who her family is, where her allegiances lie.”
In the Comics
Maya’s origin story has undergone many changes during her transition from the page to the screen, and one of the most notable alterations revolves around the killing of her father. In the comics, Maya’s father, William, isn’t killed by Barton. But Kingpin leads her to believe that another superhero is responsible for his death: Daredevil.
Maya made her comics debut in Daredevil (1998) no. 9 as part of an iconic story arc called “Parts of a Hole” from writer-painter David Mack and artist Joe Quesada. In this seven-issue narrative, Kingpin convinces Maya that Daredevil killed her father when she was a child. Maya doesn’t have any superpowers, but she has the uncanny ability to observe a person’s movements and recreate them perfectly, whether it’s the way a pianist strikes the keys of a piano or a world-class boxer lands a knockout punch. And so, driven by revenge, Maya trains herself by studying footage of a fight between Daredevil and the villainous marksman Bullseye, learning how to copy both their fighting techniques and combat skills. (She also rents a bunch of kung fu movies and masters the moves of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan for good measure.) Meanwhile, Lopez falls in love with Matt Murdock, not realizing that Murdock and Daredevil are one and the same.
When Maya fights Daredevil and finally stops long enough to read Murdock’s lips, he explains to her that he didn’t kill her father and that Fisk—who’s even more of a father figure to her in the comics than in Hawkeye—has deceived her. Eager for payback, she tracks down Kingpin and shoots him in the head:
Although the context surrounding this fateful scene is very different from the lead-up to its re-creation in Hawkeye, the end result is the same: Lopez has shot the most powerful man in New York City’s underworld, and now she’s on the run. In the comics, her story doesn’t continue until Daredevil (1998) no. 51, at the start of another arc from Mack called “Vision Quest.”
In “Vision Quest,” Maya returns to New York after fleeing the country and doing some soul-searching to learn that much has changed: Murdock has moved on from their relationship, while Kingpin has survived and is now in prison. Having lost her sense of purpose, she finds her way back to the reservation that she visited with her father as a child and seeks the counsel of an elder. Again, the way this whole story takes shape in the original comics is very different from the foundation that Marvel Studios has established ahead of Echo, but the path that Maya is forging as she reconnects with her Native American heritage in the forthcoming Disney+ series appears to draw inspiration from the comics.
Even though Echo made her debut in Daredevil in the late ’90s, it wasn’t until 2021 that she received her first solo series with Phoenix Song: Echo, written by Rebecca Roanhorse and illustrated by Luca Maresca. This time-traveling narrative brings Maya back to the same reservation from earlier comics (while updating some dated details) as it further explores her ancestral line after she gains the all-powerful abilities of the Phoenix Force. Maya travels to Chocktaw territory in 1850s Oklahoma (with excursions into the even deeper past) as she discovers the history of her mother’s side of the family tree. With Roanhorse working in the Echo writers room, many of these story elements from her comics run will likely be reflected in the TV series. However, it’s probably safe to assume that Maya won’t turn into the Phoenix anytime soon. (But you never know; I bet Kevin Feige is already itching to get another Phoenix Saga on the big screen now that the X-Men are back in play.)
While Lopez’s Native American roots are important to her character in the comics, the creative team behind Echo has made a concerted effort to represent that aspect of her story with better care and authenticity than the comics did in the ’90s and early 2000s. “When I became aware of Maya, I read through her first appearances in the Daredevil comic book series,” Freeland recently told TechRadar. “And it was interesting to see this beautifully illustrated literature show her as Cheyenne and Blackfeet. As I developed the series alongside my colleagues at Marvel, and we started doing more research, we found that there was a lot of Native American iconography that had been picked because they’re cool images.
“Being Indigenous myself, I could look at each visual symbol or image and say, ‘Oh, that’s Inuit,’ and ‘That’s Ancestral Pueblos,’ and ‘Here is Six Nations from Upstate New York,’” Freeland continued. “There was no rhyme or reason to their use or being lumped together [to represent Indigenous people]. In order to be more authentic to the story and the character of Lopez, we leaned into the specificity of her being from one tribe only. To give her a fresh start, and given we had Choctaw writers in the writers room, that meant she became Choctaw instead of Blackfeet or Cheyenne.”
As is almost always the case with Marvel Studios projects featuring characters that originated in the comics, Hawkeye and Echo have preserved certain elements of Maya’s off-screen story while making adjustments to fit her into the wider context of the MCU. One of the most noticeable differences to this point has been her lack of connection to Daredevil. But that will change soon enough: It’s already been revealed that the Man Without Fear will appear in Echo, as Charlie Cox reprises the role and reunites with D’Onofrio on the same series for the first time since Netflix’s Daredevil concluded in 2018.
Echo is set to be a groundbreaking project for Marvel Studios in multiple respects. With Alaqua Cox leading the cast, Maya Lopez will be the first Native American superhero in a headlining MCU role. Lopez is also only the second deaf superhero to appear in the MCU, after Makkari’s (Lauren Ridloff) debut in 2021’s Eternals. And, as I wrote at the top of this primer, Echo is the pilot series of the Marvel Spotlight program.
As Marvel Studios head of streaming Brad Winderbaum told Marvel.com, this new banner will be used to create narrative spaces centered on stories that aren’t necessarily tied to the bigger picture of the MCU. “Marvel Spotlight gives us a platform to bring more grounded, character-driven stories to the screen, and in the case of Echo, focusing on street-level stakes over larger MCU continuity,” Winderbaum said. “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.”
Given all the inconsistencies and struggles of the wider Multiverse Saga, the time is ripe to shift away from the larger interconnected narrative of the MCU and focus on a stand-alone story. With this new “grounded” approach that centers on “street-level stakes,” along with Echo’s novel TV-MA rating, it’s clear that Marvel Studios is attempting to re-create some of the success that Marvel Television had with its various Netflix series. (And what better way to do that than by bringing in D’Onofrio’s Kingpin and Charlie Cox’s Daredevil?) But despite the fancy, new branding, the fact that Echo is a spinoff of Hawkeye makes you wonder how much of a stand-alone story it can really be.
Marvel Spotlight appears to be the studio’s attempt to create a street-level continuity to run parallel to its bigger multiversal stories, not unlike those Netflix series and ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. were once designed to establish. Winderbaum even confirmed that Fisk is being positioned to be something of the “Thanos of this street-level corner of the MCU” and that Echo “sets the stage in some remarkable ways for what’s coming next.”
With Fisk and Daredevil set to return in the upcoming Daredevil: Born Again, Echo appears to be laying the groundwork for that highly anticipated series to take shape. As Lopez’s solo story showcases the potential of Marvel Spotlight, we’ll soon learn whether this new platform will truly allow characters to thrive on their own or whether it will be just another chance for the studio to carve out an interconnected narrative.