An Indigenous superhero gets her own Marvel spinoff next week — the first of the company’s bets on projects that don’t require prior knowledge of its popular cinematic universe.

The Disney+ series Echo stars Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez, a.k.a. Echo, the Indigenous-Latin American leader of the Tracksuit Mafia, a criminal gang run by the villainous Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. Kingpin, who is Maya’s surrogate father.

The series finds Lopez, who is deaf, wears a prosthetic leg and can precisely mimic physical reflexes, confronting Fisk, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, and taking up her anti-hero mantle after she learns the full extent of his involvement in her real father’s murder years before.

“I think it’s long overdue that we have an Indigenous superhero [or] anti-hero,” said Devery Jacobs, a Mohawk actor from Kahnawake, Que., who plays one of the series leads, Bonnie. Jacobs also starred in the FX series Reservation Dogs and in the upcoming Canadian cheerleading drama Backspot. 

“For Echo to be released and for us to be able to champion a really badass character who happens to be Choctaw [Nation], who happens to be Indigenous, it’s just — it’s awesome,” she said in an interview with CBC News.

Though Echo was first introduced in Marvel’s 2021 Hawkeye series, the spinoff arrives under Marvel’s new Spotlight banner, making it the first of several standalone TV shows and films where viewers won’t need previous knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to follow the show.

Brad Winderbaum, the company’s head of streaming, said in an interview that the banner “gives us a platform to bring more grounded, character-driven stories to the screen … our audience doesn’t need to have seen other Marvel series to understand what’s happening in Maya’s story.”

For years, the company’s worldbuilding strategy has required that interested viewers keep up on multiple instalments and crossovers in order to follow the franchise’s overarching narrative — an approach that critics have said makes the MCU feel bloated.

CBC News’s Jackson Weaver wrote in a review of Marvel’s recent film The Marvels that the movie distanced itself from the continuity approach for the better, noting that “what was once the MCU’s greatest strength has turned into an awkward and especially heavy albatross.”

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Echo, which is directed by Navajo filmmaker Sydney Freeland and Aboriginal Australian filmmaker Catriona McKenzie, also features familiar faces like Alberta-born Cree and Métis actress Tantoo Cardinal, known for her performances in films like Dances With Wolves and Killers of The Flower Moon.

Dances With Wolves Oscar nominee Graham Greene of the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario plays a supporting role, while Chaske Spencer, Greene’s co-star from The Twilight Saga, also stars in the Marvel series.

Speaking to CBC News, Spencer said there’s a lot of untapped Indigenous talent still out there.

Actors Chaske Spencer, left, and Devery Jacobs star in the upcoming Marvel/Disney+ series Echo. (CBC)

“When I was coming up there wasn’t that many opportunities and now there’s so many young Native actors up and coming. It’s a really good thing to see,” said Spencer, who is Lakota Sioux.

“Plus, it just makes more opportunities for them to play different characters and different roles, and also show us — as Indigenous people — in a different light,” he said.

“[In] the past 30 years, Hollywood’s been still trying to keep you in that box. But it’s opened up a lot in the past 15 years or so.”

The series, which was originally set to air on Jan. 10, now premieres Jan. 9 in Canada on Disney+.

 Actor Alaqua Cox stars as Maya Lopez, an Indigenous-Latin American woman who takes up the anti-hero mantle of Echo, in a Marvel spinoff series that doesn’t require prior knowledge of its popular cinematic universe.  Read More