Marvel’s next streaming series, Echo, will check off a lot of “firsts” for the studio. With a story centered around Alqua Cox’s Maya Lopez–who was first introduced in 2021’s D+ streaming series, Hawkeye— Echo will be the first MCU project led by both a deaf and Native American actress. As the studio’s first TV-MA project, it will stream synchronously on Hulu and D+, where all 5 episodes will drop on January 9th. And, after some post-production retooling, the series will also be the first project to debut under a brand new production banner for the studio known as Marvel Spotlight. The banner is more than just semantical doublespeak, however, as it represents a new direction for the studio that’s deeply connected to the long history of Marvel Comics.
One of three “tryout books” devised by Stan Lee when he became president of the House of Ideas, Marvel Spotlight was an anthology series that introduced new characters such as Red Wolf, Jessica Drew, Werewolf By Night, Ghost Rider and Son of Satan and then assess the reaction of the readership before greenlighting new series. Additionally, Marvel Spotlight books included stories about previously established characters which, in some cases, retconned major pieces of their stories or provided additional background essential to them. One such instance was 1976’s Marvel Spotlight #31 which in a story about Nick Fury, introduced the Infinity Formula as the reason behind the character’s unnatural hold on youth. Though Echo is not the first appearance of Maya Lopez, the series does stick to the Marvel Spotlight in this way by revealing the true origin of the character.
According to an official project announcement from Marvel Studios, Marvel Spotlight projects will bring “more grounded, character-driven stories to the screen.” Additionally, “under the new banner“, series such as Echo “can focus on street-level stakes over larger MCU continuity” and, perhaps most importantly, “viewers don’t have to watch any other Marvel series to understand the plot.” While the “street-level stakes” are certainly eye-catching, especially for fans of Netflix’s Defenders-verse series, the last bit of the announcement deserves some attention as well.
In theory–and hopefully in practice–a Marvel Spotlight series will not require any prior exposure to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the case of Echo, that means anyone who tunes in on Disney Plus or Hulu will not have to have seen, nor have any understanding of, Hawkeye, Spider-Man: No Way Home, She-Hulk: Attorney At Law or even, as heretical as it may seem, a single one of Daredevil’s 39 episodes. Not only does that render features such as the ridiculous “The Ultimate List of What to Watch Before Echo” totally meaningless, it also implies–if not promises–that any and all background information necessary to fully digest the plot of Echo will be included within its 5 episodes.
In this way, the new banner represents an interesting pivot for the studio at a time when casual fans have begun to decry the interconnectivity of the projects in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (please, let that last sentence strike you however it may). Yes, Marvel Spotlight projects like Echo will include characters, such as Daredevil and Kingpin, from the ever-expanding MCU but whatever is NECESSARY to the plot of the series will be contained within. That provides a classic win-win scenario for Marvel Studios in which if a viewer wants to watch every episode of Daredevil or Hawkeye ahead of Echo, they could–potentially–find their viewing experience enhanced. However, a newbie could also tune in on January 9th and find out everything they need to know throughout a much shorter period of time. Choose your own adventure and you win either way.
Marvel Studios presents Echo, spotlighting Maya Lopez as she is pursued by Wilson Fisk’s criminal empire. When the journey brings her home, she must confront her own family and legacy. Echo stars Alaqua Cox (Hawkeye) as Maya Lopez, as well as Chaske Spencer (Wild Indian, The English), Tantoo Cardinal (Killers of the Flower Moon, Stumptown), Devery Jacobs (FX’s Reservation Dogs, American Gods), Zahn McClarnon (Dark Winds, FX’s Reservation Dogs) and Cody Lightning (Hey, Viktor!, Four Sheets to the Wind), with Graham Greene (1883, Goliath) and Vincent D’Onofrio (Hawkeye, Daredevil, Law & Order: Criminal Intent), who returns to the villainous role of Wilson Fisk aka Kingpin.
Episodes of the series are directed by Sydney Freeland (Navajo) and Catriona McKenzie (Gunaikurnai). Executive producers are Kevin Feige, Stephen Broussard, Louis D’Esposito, Brad Winderbaum, Victoria Alonso, Richie Palmer, Jason Gavin (Blackfeet), Marion Dayre and Sydney Freeland. Co-executive producers are Jennifer L. Booth and Amy Rardin. Marvel Studios’ Echo launches on Disney+ and Hulu Jan. 9, 2024.