Marvel currently has a lot of problems, which Variety detailed last week. I am of the opinion that they can recover—are already taking the right steps in that direction—but the big question is really if audiences will hang in long enough, at least another year after an already rough years-long period of uneven storytelling and decreasing quality control, for Marvel to rebound.
Most of their problems stem simply from making too much stuff, and while a pipeline slowdown IS coming, already happening in baby steps, they still have a bunch of projects in various stages of production to deal with. So far, they haven’t sh-tcanned anything for tax write-offs, which is good, but it does mean they will still be putting out a glut of films and shows for the next 12-18 months before the great reset of circa 2025-26 takes place. Will audiences still be here by then?
Echo is going to be an interesting test. The first trailer dropped over the weekend in conjunction with Choctaw Day and Native American Heritage Month kicking off. Marvel held a screening of the first two episodes in Oklahoma—home of the Choctaw Nation, of which Maya Lopez is a (fictional) member—which was attended by executive producer and director Sydney Freeland, a Navajo filmmaker who has been the face of the show with star Alaqua Cox unable to do promotion (and probably a little bit because series creator/showrunner Marion Dayre isn’t Native herself, and Freeland was a huge contributor to the Native representation on the show, taking the department heads to the annual Choctaw Pow Wow in Oklahoma, for instance, and having the crew learn American Sign Language, as that is Alaqua Cox’s language).
The trailer for Echo is solid, with Vincent D’Onofrio reprising his role as Kingpin from the Netflix Daredevil series, and speaking in voiceover about his similarities to Maya Lopez, aka Echo. Maya was introduced in Hawkeye, and Alaqua Cox made a good impression in her debut role. It’s neat the show is embracing everything Cox brings to the table, as a Native woman, as a deaf person, as an amputee. They’re also un-burdening Echo from the larger MCU continuity, as it will exist under the “Marvel Spotlight” banner, which, like the “Star Wars Stories”, is meant to separate spin-offs and standalones from the larger ongoing continuity. This is a good move, as the MCU’s “it’s all connected” schtick has become completely unwieldly, and signaling to audiences that some things can just be enjoyed on their own is a step in the right direction.
As for Echo itself, Freeland has said the show will depart from the comics, where Maya’s superpower is that she can “echo” the movements of others. Freeland called that “lame”, which isn’t exactly a confidence builder that the creative team embraced Maya on the page, but then, maybe Cox herself inspired a new direction for the character, which could be cool. I’m taking a wait and see approach to whatever they’ve done regarding Maya’s powers. They’ve also switched Maya’s roots from Cheyenne to Choctaw, as one of the show’s writers, Stephen Paul Judd, is Choctaw and could provide specificity in representation, not just the typical Hollywood hodge-podge of Native imagery.
Echo premieres in totality on January 10, not the usual weekly episode structure used by Disney+ for Marvel series. So, basically, they’re dumping it. I mean, it’s better than shelving it for a tax write off, but I wish Maya and Cox were being a little better served. It’s not their fault Marvel is a mess right now. But again, the alternative is shelving the show, and I am genuinely glad Marvel isn’t doing that (yet. They could always pull it later to avoid paying residuals). Also, this will be Disney+’s first TV-MA rated series, gearing up for Daredevil: Born Again, whenever that comes out. Speaking of Marvel messes—Daredevil is one!
And now a little exclusive, as a treat. Over the weekend, Marvel also released a version of the trailer with Choctaw subtitles. But for the show, they’re fully dubbing episodes in the Choctaw language. This is, in fact, only one part of a larger project to record Indigenous-language dubs for various Marvel projects, including dubs of some of their biggest movies. This is a huge boon to Native communities racing to preserve endangered languages, which many Indigenous languages are, as there are limited numbers of first-language speakers left. It’s not just a one-off episode effort, this is a real project which increases Indigenous representation and contributes significantly to the preservation of Native languages. Say whatever you want about the state of Marvel right now, but that’s pretty awesome.