Day 6

Marvel's newest collaboration features Indigenous voices writing Indigenous characters

In celebration of Native American Heritage Month in the U.S., Marvel Comics commissioned an anthology of stories featuring legacy Indigenous characters. Rebecca Roanhorse, a Black and Ohkay Owingeh science fiction and fantasy author, contributed an Echo story to Marvel's Voices: Indigenous Voices #1 along with Tongva artist Weshoyot Alvitre.

Black-Ohkay Owingeh writer Rebecca Roanhorse collaborated on the new series

Marvel Comics' latest anthology series Indigenous Voices was released in late November. The first issue features a story starring Maya Lopez, written by Black-Ohkay Owingeh science fiction and fantasy author Rebecca Roanhorse and drawn by Tongva artist Weshoyot Alvitre. (Rebecca Roanhorse)

According to Rebecca Roanhorse, the Marvel Comics character Maya Lopez — a.k.a. Echo — faced many injustices at the hands of other characters over the years.

"She has had tough love story arcs that usually she comes out on the bad end of," Roanhorse, an award-winning science fiction and fantasy author of Black and Ohkay Owingeh heritage, told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

So when Marvel approached Roanhorse to contribute to an anthology featuring Indigenous creators telling the stories of Indigenous characters, she was immediately interested.

Marvel's Voices: Indigenous Voices features a cast of legacy Indigenous characters — including Echo, Dani Moonstar, American Eagle, Thunderbird and Silver Fox — in stories not only written by Indigenous authors, but also drawn by Indigenous artists, for perhaps the first time in Marvel history.

The issue was published on Nov. 18, 2020, to coincide with National Native American Heritage Month in the U.S. The stories contained within are told in "one-shot" format: single, standalone stories that typically don't intersect with the existing comic book storylines that stretch back decades.

Originally conceived by Joe Quesada and David Mack, Maya Lopez has been part of the Marvel Comics universe since 1999. In that time, she's been a companion of Daredevil, as was even the first character to don the mantle of Ronin. (Weshoyot Alvitre)

"Most of the writers previously of these characters have been straight, white men," Roanhorse said. "And so I just don't think they're going to come with the same sort of questions and concerns."

Take Maya Lopez — a deaf, half-Latina, half-Cheyenne character who operates under the superhero name Echo. 

Originally conceived by former Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada and comics creator David Mack, Lopez has been a supporting character to Daredevil and was the first Marvel character to don the mantle of Ronin (an alias later associated with, among others, Clint Barton a.k.a. the Avenger Hawkeye).

But Roanhorse points out that Echo has also "been through a lot, and a lot of it is at the hands of some of the male characters in the Marvel universe."

For instance, Echo has been "fridged" — referring to the act of killing off a female character primarily to fuel a male character's motivation — twice over her more than 20 years as a character. 

"I really wanted to address a lot of that and correct some of those … errors, or, at least, limitations, that people couldn't see the potential in this character," Roanhorse said.

Beyond wanting to do right by Echo, however, Roanhorse said she also felt a connection with the Indigneous superhero, since Roanhorse is also part Indigenous herself. 

"She is a bit of an outsider," she said of Echo. "Her mother was killed when she was young, she grew up with sort of a mix of different Indigenous people who don't have specific tribal affiliations, or who live in a place they call 'The Rez,' but is not actually a reservation or reserve."

Roanhorse herself is adopted and only reunited with her birth family and birth mother "later in life."

"I think definitely that sort of outsider feeling she has really appeals to me.... I could definitely see some of my own story in hers."

Tongva artist Weshoyot Alvitre was responsible for creating the artwork for Echo's story in Marvel Voices: Indigenous Voices #1. (Weshoyot Alvitre/Facebook)

When it came time to address Echo's identity as a deaf woman, Roanhorse — who isn't deaf herself — said steps were taken to ensure appropriate representation. 

Roanhorse initially told Marvel that she wanted to co-write the Indigenous Voices Echo story alongside a deaf writer. 

"But Marvel really wanted to focus on the Indigenous representation," she said. 

Ultimately, Marvel hired a deaf consultant — a friend of Roanhorse's — to "make sure we incorporated sign language into the story" and to make sure that the script incorporated Echo's identity as a deaf person as well. 

"Echo can read lips. I wanted to make sure the characters were looking at her, and thinks like that," Roanhorse said, as an example. 

I could definitely see some of my own story in hers.- Rebecca Roanhorse on Maya Lopez/Echo

To her credit, Roanhorse said initial fan reactions have largely been positive — from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous readers.

"I don't think it can really be underestimated, the amount of excitement and what it means to comic book readers — especially younger ones and even fans who have grown up with these characters — because they were Indigenous and they could see themselves," she said.

"I think people are very excited about it, I think it was really speaking to a need that I think is out there."

Though the Echo story featured in Indigenous Voices is technically a one-shot, Roanhorse said Marvel was very open to the ideas she had for the character's future. 

"I definitely wrote this one-shot with her future in mind," Roanhorse said. "I know what's coming next, and I tried to sort of thread that through thematically as well as tell sort of a cohesive short story."

Fans of Roanhorse's work — whether in the Marvel universe oe her own literary worlds — shouldn't assume she's done with comic books, either. 

"I don't think I'm allowed to talk about any of that … but I don't know that I'm done in the Marvel universe," Roanhorse said slyly. "You may see me again." 

Written and produced by Sameer Chhabra.