The MCU is full of virtuous heroes. But the time has come for us to explore a complicated female antihero like Echo’s Maya Lopez. Played by Alaqua Cox, Maya Lopez is the protagonist of the new five-part miniseries, Echo, on Disney+. The show follows Maya, who first debuted in 2021’s Hawkeye miniseries, as she travels back to her home in Tahama, Oklahoma, to reconnect with her Choctaw family and culture. In Marvel Comics, Maya is also known as the vigilante Echo, a Deaf Native American woman with the ability to copy any movement she observes. Echo brought together a team of Native and/or women writers and producers to create what is perhaps the MCU’s strongest television show yet in the Disney+ era. We spoke to Echo executive producer and writer of episode 5 (“Maya”), Amy Rardin, about the process of making this show, collaborating with the Choctaw Nation, and the elements that first attracted her to Maya’s character.
One of the unique parts about Echo is its focus on rage, evident in Maya’s relationship with the series villain. Longtime fans of the MCU and the Daredevil show will feel pleased to see that Vincent D’Onofrio reprises his role as Wilson Fisk, the crime lord also known as Kingpin. Fisk was a surrogate father figure to Maya after he murdered her father, crafting her into the rage-filled, martial arts expert that we meet in the beginning of the miniseries.
For Rardin, Maya’s relationship with Fisk was partly what drew her into the character. “Probably the thing that I gravitated toward the most, in terms of emotional storytelling, was her relationship with Kingpin, and what that must have been like to have been co-raised by someone like him,” Rardin said. “Fisk is probably one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written. He is so complicated and Vincent D’Onofrio obviously is a master of playing this character. And I think that what is interesting to me is to get to tell a side of him as a ‘father,’ which I think we haven’t really seen before. He’s a surrogate father and had such a monstrous childhood.” This, of course, refers to Fisk’s abusive father, whom he killed with a hammer when he was still a child.
For Rardin, the compelling point of difference between Maya and Fisk was how they reconciled with their childhood trauma as adults, and how they still had familial love for each other, despite Fisk’s villainous tendencies. “I think Fisk, in his own twisted way, has the capacity to love,” Rardin began. “It may be really messed up, the way he loves people, and that is what Maya realizes. But I think in her own way, she also loves him somewhat.” Rardin points to the moment in the series finale when Maya uses her powers as a healer to try to mend Fisk’s childhood trauma. “I think that moment in the 4-H barn is so pivotal to their relationship because she’s trying to give him the chance to change. And she feels that maybe somewhere in there can be the person that she loves, and he just can’t do it.”
This moment of compassion, intercut with a powwow happening outside, was deeply moving. It showed off the totality of Maya’s new superpowers, which Marvel created specifically for the Echo show. Rardin explained that the Echo team built Maya’s powers out of her emotional journey as a character.
Maya’s powers are harnessed from the special abilities of her maternal ancestors, giving her physical strength, a strategic mind, and the ability to access other people’s memories to attempt to heal their emotional pain. “I think that, ultimately, what ended up on screen was very much tied into her emotional story with family, and being able to become a whole person when you learn about your whole self,” Rardin said. While changing a character’s powers can be controversial for some comic fans, Maya’s new abilities seamlessly fit into the core themes of family and self-actualization on Echo. Clearly, this was a decision that was not made lightly.
This level of care brought to Echo can also be seen in the role that the Choctaw Nation played in ensuring cultural accuracy and authenticity onscreen. Choctaw writer Steven Paul Judd was part of the show’s writers’ room, and Rardin described the Nation’s involvement on Echo as “incredible and invaluable.” Rardin recounted how members of the Choctaw Nation were “sitting next to me the whole time [on set] when we were in Atlanta. So if I had a question or a concern, or they had a question or concern, we would just fix it right there. And we had a kitchen set up in Atlanta on one of the sound stages where people from the Choctaw Nation were actually making the food that was shown on screen… And I feel like it allowed us to have a very authentic, specific story experience.”
Specificity was a crucial goal for Echo and was partly built from the experiences of the Native creators who worked on the series. Rardin pointed out how writers Bobby Wilson, Jason Gavin, and Rebecca Roanhorse, alongside directors Sydney Freeland and Catriona McKenzie, could pull from “their own experience” in order to make the world of the show feel lived in. For Rardin, she could connect with the small-town feel of Tahama, Oklahoma with its roller skating rink, having grown up in a similar town herself. “I want to know all the drama that happens at the roller rink,” I admitted, to which Rardin responded, “Oh, you know there’s a lot of drama at that rink,” with a laugh.
Given all of this, Echo is unique among Marvel’s offerings. It feels more tangible than other projects, thanks to its attention to cultural detail and a family drama focus against the backdrop of a crime story. When asked about what she wanted fans to walk away from the show with, Rardin spoke to the importance of Maya Lopez as a complicated female antihero. For Rardin, Maya speaks to a question of “Are we defined by our past,” and by extension, our trauma? “I think there are a lot of people who have complicated lives, and complicated paths, and complicated childhoods,” Rardin noted.
There is something healing in watching a character like Maya find power, literally, in the complexities of her lineage. Maya’s journey in order to make peace with her trauma and family illustrates the small-scale impact that other Marvel projects could benefit from. Though Echo showed fans just a microcosm of stories within the MCU (seriously, where is Tuklo’s black-and-white one-hour special?), hopefully, it will inspire a more emotionally-intimate approach within one of pop culture’s biggest franchises.