Alaqua Cox made a huge impression as Maya Lopez – a.k.a. Echo – in Hawkeye, but did you notice the secret meaning behind her unique fighting style?
The MCU is known for its attention to detail, but the secrets behind Echo’s combat style in Hawkeye take subtle character cues to a whole new level. Despite the frightening pace Marvel has churned out blockbusters over the past 14 years, the MCU franchise is only now beginning to make genuine efforts toward improving diversity in areas such as race, gender, and sexuality. 2021 also represented a landmark year for representation of deaf characters in Marvel’s world, with Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari joining the Eternals, and Alaqua Cox’s Echo debuting in Disney+’s Hawkeye.
Born Maya Lopez, Echo was raised into criminality via her father’s association with Kingpin’s Tracksuit Mafia. She trained diligently as a martial artist, excelling in multiple disciplines as well as having the intellectual smarts to back up that fighting prowess. Following her father’s death by the blade of Ronin, Echo assumed control of the Tracksuit Mafia, and began working directly under her “uncle.” Though she possesses no superpowers or fancy tech, Echo is a skilled enough combatant to compete with an Avenger, a Black Widow, and a Kate Bishop. Like her comic book counterpart, Echo can replicate moves and techniques upon sight – even after a single glimpse.
Like other Marvel characters who specialize in hand-to-hand combat rather than tossing a patrotic frisbee or shooting sticky ropes everywhere, Echo’s fighting style is based on real-world martial arts. In Marvel Studios: Assembled’s “The Making Of Hawkeye,” Alaqua Cox reveals Echo’s combat is a blend of MMA and karate – details that make perfect sense given the training we see her undertake in Hawkeye’s flashbacks. However, Cox also confirms a subtle – yet extremely important – detail about Echo’s fighting style that viewers won’t necessarily notice upon first watch. When Echo strikes, she predominantly uses her elbows where other battlers might thrown a regular punch. Cox reveals this is a consequence of Echo’s deafness. Relying largely on ASL to communicate, Maya can’t afford to damage her hands in a fight, so generic fist strikes are replaced with more frequent elbow blows.
Echo’s preference for elbow strikes – and, more specifically, her reason for preferring them – adds an extra layer of depth to Alaqua Cox’s Hawkeye character. Though the trait is never highlighted in any overt way, it’s a background detail that elevates Echo into a living, breathing, fully-fleshed out entity, whose entire fictional backstory is woven through her words and actions in Hawkeye’s present day. More importantly, Echo’s way of fighting is representative of the adjustments real deaf people make in their everyday lives. Granted, beating up Avengers isn’t exactly “everyday” stuff, but Echo refraining from punching because she speaks through ASL is the type of concession non-deaf viewers may not immediately realize she’d need to make.
Echo protecting her hands during combat proves Marvel isn’t just paying lip service to diversity when it comes to deaf characters, and there are several other examples of her lifestyle adjustments dotted throughout Hawkeye. When Kate Bishop breaks into Echo’s apartment, for example, Hailee Steinfeld’s Clint Barton super-fan thinks her infiltration has gone unnoticed. In reality, Kate sets off Maya’s silent alarm system – a security device for deaf people that doesn’t trigger a loud, blaring siren. Whether considering Echo’s deafness into her fighting style, or incorporating it as part of her home, Hawkeye is properly acknowledging Maya’s hearing impairment along with all its difficulties and nuances. Not only does that make Echo a more layered addition to the MCU, but she’s more relatable for viewers who share the same condition.