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Marvel’s latest TV series, Echo, is a gritty crime drama set in the larger cinematic universe with a non-hero as its protagonist. The show thus rebrands the MCU in a way that badly needs doing. It contains many culturally specific details that make for richer viewing, as well as an amazing performance by Alaqua Cox. She has potential to become a new fan favorite. Echo comes at a point in Marvel history when things have gotten so big and cosmic that it helps to have a smaller, more touchable human story, much like Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Not only does 2024 kick off with this slimmed down slate from the studio, but it also follows on the heels of some major disappointments for Marvel Studios. In 2023, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania was their first huge under-performer since before Iron Man; Secret Invasion was not only the worst reviewed entry in the franchise but even now still holds the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score among all movies ever made (including notoriously bad ones); The Marvels became their first flop; and then there was the very public fallout from Jonathan Majors’ domestic abuse conviction which resulted in him being dropped from Kang role just last month. And while Guardians Vol. 3 has tested through roof twice now and What If…? season two seems poised to break records for Disney+, overall 2023 was rough on the MCU, suggesting superhero fatigue might be setting in.

That’s a lot of weight to put on Echo’s shoulders.Marvel Studios has built its empire by taking characters no one cared about and turning them into household names — they made Iron Man,T hor,and Captain America into A-listers — so why were fans suddenly so skeptical about Echo as a show when they’d already bought tickets for far sillier outings like Guardians or Ant-Man? Many argued that it just seemed like Marvel was spread too thin here: pumping more and more product out of the Disney+ assembly line, and too much of it seeming to come from nothing. But pretty quickly it became clear this was going to be a Defenders Saga series in tone, if not in execution.

The thing is: an MCU project lives or dies by its character. Do people like this person, and will they come back next time? And while Alaqua Cox certainly made an impression last year in Hawkeye, Echo is where she gets to shine. It’s hard to believe that was her first series; this is her first lead role! And she’s great here, playing a very stoic and closed off person who has not only cut herself off from her heritage but also her family — so it feels fitting that a lot of what she has to do here is about finding who she once was as a child. There are several moments where a more lighthearted Maya comes through too, which shows off Cox’s range as both an actor and a character.

Most of the attention has been on Kingpin’s return and the role Daredevil (Charlie Cox) plays in this story. I think it’s great that this has been a big focus for them, as they were both popular characters from Netflix series who seem to fit into MCU canon quite snuggly. However, within those six episodes, neither character overshadows or completely steals Maya Lopez’s spotlight – they’re there to help tell her story. Daredevil makes a memorable early appearance but only shows up for one episode simply to establish just how good of a fighter Maya is.

Kingpin looms over every scene just off camera until he finally shows up. In many ways, Kingpin is a better antagonist for Maya than Daredevil. Not only do the two have family history with each other, but he serves as a dark reflection of where she came from and what she’s becoming. It’s not often that the hero wants to take over as the villain and the villain wants to stop it becomes the main arc of a series, but Echo smartly builds up to these two eventually meeting face-to-face and realizing what it takes to be a crime boss.

The rest of the cast is equally as strong in their roles. Graham Greene is fantastic as Maya’s loving and sarcastic grandfather Skully; Devery Jacobs brings energy as Bonnie — Maya’s cousin/ former childhood best friend — who serves as an emotional anchor during some heavy moments throughout episodes 2-3; Tantoo Cardinal has great chemistry with Greene playing Chula — Maya’s grandmother/ Skully’s estranged wife — whose tough exterior hides an unconditional love for her granddaughter; and Zahn McClarnon always delivers nuanced performances so I can’t wait to see more from his character Willie “Crazy Horse” Lincoln.

Echo deals with some very heavy subject matter at times (substance use, domestic violence), so having a character like Bonnie who can bring levity — and is voiced by someone as talented as Devery Jacobs — was a great move on the show’s part. Her dynamic with Cox is charming and really solidifies this as what could be another strong friendship within MCU. In fact, I’d go so far to say that Bonnie and Matt’s chemistry rivals that of Steve Rogers & Bucky Barnes or Tony Stark & Rhodey.

Echo is, of course, the superhero alias Maya Lopez takes on in the comics. She possesses photographic reflexes that allow her to perfectly mimic any move she sees someone else perform (similar to villain Taskmaster). It was reported early on that they would be changing this for the series — while it certainly upset a lot of fans, it also left me wondering what does Echo mean then? What does it signify for Maya? These first three episodes don’t give us any concrete answers but they do hint at how it connects back into Maya’s Choctaw heritage.

At the beginning of each episode, Echo has a beautiful and very striking sequence that deals with a specific part of the Choctaw people, in this case a thriving Choctaw nation before Europeans arrived (in episode two). Each episode starts by jumping forward in time to focus on some neglected part of history that refracts Maya’s story. The word echo in the title seems to refer to how her culture (and maybe superpowers) ripple through time — it begins way in the past and reverberates into Maya’s present, where she seems able to tap into some ancient power from her culture.

It is obvious that Marvel wanted to represent different types of people through this show, and they did a good job with that. Some may call it diversity or tokenism but showing characters who come from very rich specific cultural backgrounds or having heroes with disability is important not only for audiences seeing themselves represented which is what superhero fiction has always aimed at doing but also for keeping alive such kind of genre especially now when many people seem tired of superheroes. Therefore Echo becomes more than just another crime drama set within MCU; without these elements it would be nothing more than any other series about criminals fighting against each other.

The only thing I didn’t like about Echo was its number of episodes. Ever since Netflix Days, Marvel hasn’t been able to find right length for their TV shows: 13 episodes were too much for streaming services like Defenders Saga where most seasons dragged because they lacked pacing while being hour-long shows; Disney+ series tend feel undercooked as all dramas are six-episode runs which often ends up feeling rushed such as Moon Knight and Secret Invasion; She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, WandaVision, What If…? have nine episodes each due being half-hour entries thus making them look like long movies rather than TV series.

Echo is shortest MCU show on Disney+ so far with only five episodes which can work if done right. These three episodes (from five) were very entertaining but I am curious how they are going to wrap everything up with just two left or will it end on cliffhanger to be resolved in another Disney+ show or second season? This kind of series could have used even just one more episode so we can get into these characters’ lives a little deeper.

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