Echo made her screen debut in Disney Plus' 2021 Hawkeye streaming series, turning Alaqua Cox into a lead actor almost from the word go. Now, she's taking her breakout popularity into her own series, which lands on Disney Plus this week. And from what we've seen in the trailers, this looks set to be a much darker and more violent story than most MCU productions - hence its release under the new Marvel Spotlight banner.
A comparatively new comics character that the mainstream public probably wasn't very familiar with before her Disney Plus debut, Maya/Echo's Marvel Comics backstory includes being the first character to adopt the Ronin identity that MCU followers know from 2019's Avengers: Endgame and then Hawkeye.
With all five episodes of the show arriving at the same time later this week, it's time to take a look back at Echo's comic book origins, her powers, and her place in both the MCU and on the printed page.
Who is Echo?
Echo starts out as an antagonist for Daredevil. After her father (an enforcer for the Kingpin) is murdered by his own boss, Maya Lopez is taken in by Kingpin himself, who promises to raise her as his own child. Though she is initially thought to have a learning disability, Maya attends a special school where she learns that not only is she deaf, she's actually a prodigy in both the creative and martial arts.
Under Kingpin's manipulation, Maya grows up blaming Daredevil for her father's death, eventually vowing revenge on the vigilante. Taking the name Echo because of her natural talent for mimicking the movements of others, Maya adorns her face with a handprint that resembles the bloody print left on her face by her dying father, and sets out to kill Daredevil.
First meeting Matt Murdock (through the machinations of the Kingpin), Echo begins a relationship with Matt while simultaneously hunting Daredevil. But when she discovers Daredevil's secret - his blindness - she sets a trap designed to remove the advantage of his radar sense, and fights him nearly to the death.
Echo stops short of killing Daredevil when she realizes he and Matt Murdock are one and the same, instead turning on Kingpin and shooting him, leaving him for dead (more on that in a bit).
After fleeing the country, Maya eventually returns to discover Matt Murdock has moved on with his life and is with another woman, while Kingpin, who survived his injuries, is incarcerated.
Kingpin forgives Maya for trying to kill him, and she leaves again on another soul-searching journey, eventually meeting up with Wolverine and learning of the evil ninja group, the Hand.
Maya finds a new purpose in her life by fighting the Hand, taking on the identity of Ronin, and eventually joining the Avengers - a team she still associates with.
Echo in the Marvel Universe
As we stated, Maya Lopez was the original secret identity of the character Ronin, a masked ninja who debuted as a mystery member of the New Avengers, with readers knowing a recognizable character was in the suit, but not who.
Though plans originally called for Daredevil to be revealed as the secret hero operating as Ronin, the plot was switched around and Echo was put in the role (though, in another odd controversy, the secret was accidentally spoiled ahead of the story's release).
Maya, as Ronin, initially came into contact with the Avengers while fighting the Hand in Japan. After taking on the Hand's leadership, including Silver Samurai and Viper, alongside the Avengers, Echo remains in Japan as Ronin to monitor the Hand's activities.
But she's taken captive, leading the Avengers to set out to rescue Echo from the Hand before she can be subverted into becoming one of their brainwashed assassins.
When Maya encounters Elektra, herself a brainwashed Hand assassin, things take a dark turn when Echo actually stabs her and reveals that the Elektra in question was not the actual Elektra Natchios, but a Skrull who was impersonating her.
This discovery kicks off the Secret Invasion storyline in which Skrulls are revealed to have infiltrated Earth society in the guise of known heroes and other people from the Marvel Universe, which in turn leads to the 'Dark Reign' era which put Norman Osborn in charge of a new SHIELD-like group called HAMMER.
In the 'Dark Reign' era, Echo passed the Ronin mantle on to Clint Barton. From there, Echo continued her pattern of infiltrating criminal groups undercover, teaming up with Moon Knight to take on the villainous Count Nefaria, before returning to New York and teaming up with Daredevil once again.
Most recently, Echo has once again been serving as a member of the Avengers, a membership that has taken her into a totally new role in the Marvel Universe as the current host of the cosmic Phoenix Force, having won the Phoenix's favor in the tournament shown in the story 'Avengers: Enter the Phoenix.'
And in 2021 she starred in her own limited series, Phoenix Song: Echo, which explored the way Echo uses her newfound Phoenix Force powers.
Echo in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
On screen Maya/Echo is played by actor Alaqua Cox. Hailing from the Menominee and Mohican nations, she is the first Native American MCU hero. Echo is also the MCU's second deaf hero, following the debut of actor Lauren Ridloff as Makkari in Eternals.
A key difference between the comic book and live-action Echo is that the live-action version hasn't yet displayed any clear-cut superhuman ability.
In the comics her photographic reflexes were originally explained to be innate talent but not a superpower per se. That changed when she became the Phoenix's new host and gained actual powers.
Flashback scenes in the Hawkeye TV show imply that the MCU Maya observes and processes the tendencies of her opponents. That said, comments from Echo producer Sydney Freeland have suggested that we may see her develop superpowers in the Echo show. At a press event last year Freeland said, "Her power in the comic books is that she can copy anything, any movement, any whatever. It's kind of lame... I will say, that is not her power. I'll just kind of leave it at that."
But like we said earlier, other aspects of Maya's comic book story actually beat her to the screen, forming one of the main bases of the Hawkeye show's plot.
Namely, it's Echo's legacy as Ronin that connected her most directly to Clint Barton, in comic book terms at least. In the MCU, Ronin is the identity taken on by Hawkeye during the time of the five-year gap between when Thanos eliminated half of all life in the universe with the Snap, and when the Avengers built their own Infinity Gauntlet to undo Thanos' decimation.
In the now-concluded Hawkeye show, Clint's past as Ronin came looking for him, specifically in the form of Echo. She blamed Ronin for the death of her father, who was a lieutenant in Wilson Fisk's criminal organization.
Echo has a complex relationship with the Kingpin both on screen and in the comics. Maya has known Wilson Fisk since she was a young child. She looked up to him as a beloved uncle, and worked for him as her father did, becoming his weapon in part because of her need for vengeance against Ronin.
She eventually breaks away from Fisk in the Hawkeye finale, but not before the Kingpin orders her to be killed, which leads to one last confrontation and a cliffhanger familiar to comic book readers...
Echo's apparent shooting (off-camera) of Kingpin seems to be a direct reference to the story Daredevil: Parts of a Hole, in which Echo shoots Kingpin in the head - though he survives. We now know for sure that he's survived on screen too and will play a major part in the Echo show.
You can find out how Wilson Fisk survived, what Maya's new powers will be, and how Daredevil will factor into the show when all five episodes of Echo hit Disney Plus on January 9.
And for more on the MCU, check out our list of all the upcoming Marvel movies and shows you need to know about.
Echo started out as an enforcer for Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin, one of the best Daredevil villains ever (OK, THE best).