One of the most prominent Deaf characters in Marvel Comics is Threw outwho is set to continue her journey in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with her own show on Disney+. Also known as Maya Lopez, Echo is an exceptionally skilled fighter, based on her photographic reflexes of her, which allow her to copy any movement after observing it. Introduced in the MCU in the Disney+ show, hawk eyeEcho is poised to further usher in a new era for Marvel onscreen, as a character who is Deaf, Cheyenne Native American, and Latina.
Recently in the avengers series from Jason Aaron and Javier Garrón, Echo became the host of the Phoenix Force, one of the most powerful entities in the universe. Armed with her de ella newfound set of powers de ella, Echo had the chance to explore her own family history in the Phoenix Song: Echo series by Rebecca Roanhorse, Luca Maresca, and Kyle Charles. She also remains one of the most high profile Deaf characters in comics, having been Deaf from birth. “Deaf” is capitalized for Echo, as it is a reference to the specific culture that Deaf people have. This can be contrasted with a deaf character like Clint Barton’s Hawkeye, who lost his hearing later on in life, and was not raised in an environment with Deaf people or where sign language was used.
While Echo has been long overdue for the spotlight in Marvel Comics, the publisher has largely fallen short of incorporating her deafness into this new chapter for her. She has demonstrated an ability to lipread through masks and from great distances, though she is unable to do so for characters that wear helmets or bulky masks. Unfortunately, Echo’s uncanny lipreading ability falls into a troop for d/Deaf people in pop culture where they can seamlessly understand verbal speech without hearing people having to change the ways they communicate. Moreover, even when characters are n’t wearing masks, Echo has been shown to carry conversations with people facing away from her, which would make it impossible for her to read their lips from her.
Echo’s deafness in comics has been represented in a way that assimilates her into the dominant hearing culture that permeates both American comics and beyond. While superhero stories necessitate readers to suspend their disbelief, the misrepresentation of Echo’s deafness provides both an inaccurate depiction of how many hard of hearing and d/Deaf people navigate the world, as well as a shallow understanding of what “diversity” looks like in real life. Instead of using Echo’s arc as a way to meaningfully showcase the specificities of being Deaf, Marvel has downplayed the character’s disability of her in her comics, a fact that her Disney+ show should fix.
Echo’s Lipreading Ability Isn’t Consistent in Comics.
While it is not inaccurate for Echo to lipread as a method of understanding verbal communication, her sole reliance on it, as well as the fantastic lengths in which she is able to use it, frequently makes it easy for readers to forget that she is Deaf in the first place. In practice, lipreading is a vastly imperfect method, which is why it is often used in combination with other methods by hard of hearing and d/Deaf people. Given that Echo can also somehow lipread through superhero masks, from all areas in her field of vision, and even when someone is turned away from her, Marvel has effectively assimilated her into hearing culture, as almost none of the characters she interacts with are called to make their behavior more accessible.
Furthermore, Marvel Comics could have authentically incorporated Echo’s deafness into the dynamic of the Avengers team through the use of technology. Today, technology is one of the most popular methods for hard of hearing and d/Deaf people to communicate with hearing people who don’t know sign language. There are a multitude of apps where people can type out what they would like to say, making conversations accessible for hearing and d/Deaf people. This type of tech has existed for years now and is widely used by many hard of hearing and d/Deaf people, so it is strange to see it absent from the Marvel Universe.
A Group As Technologically-Advanced As The Avengers Should Be More Accessible For Deaf Characters Like Echo.
Given the role that technology plays in the lives of so many hard of hearing and d/Deaf people in real life, it is both baffling and disheartening to think that a group as technologically-advanced as the Avengers would not have developed accessible technology for characters like Echo. Tony Stark is able to fly around as Iron Man in a metal suit of armor, and yet no one has a device that puts their speech into text, or is able to communicate in American Sign Language. If Earth’s Mightiest Heroes can’t do this, then who will?
It is for this reason that the misrepresentation of Echo’s deafness is so frustrating. As the current Phoenix host, she has never been more central to the Marvel mythos, but in this position, she has lost several hallmarks of a Deaf identity. This makes it difficult for hard of hearing and d/ Deaf fans to feel like she can adequately represent them when so much of her experience of her in the world looks exactly like a hearing character’s. Moreover, by assimilating Echo into hearing culture, Marvel misses the opportunity to show how being hard of hearing or d/Deaf isn’t an obstacle, but another equally rich way of existing in the world. It’s impossible to imagine Daredevil’s comics without their regard for Matt Murdock’s blindness, so why should Echo be any different?
Having Echo bond with the Phoenix Force was a powerful moment, and her exploration into her own family history in the Threw out: phoenix song series was incredibly moving. But by giving Echo an infallible, uncanny ability to read lips and navigate the world like a hearing person, it suggests to BIPOC hard of hearing and d/Deaf people that only one aspect of their identities can be explored at a time. There is so much potential for Ella’s Echo’s character because of the various intersections of her Ella identity, and Marvel Comics has yet to fully embrace this.
The fictional world of Marvel Comics provides an opportunity for creators to forge whatever version of the world they would like to see. For a Deaf, Native American, and Latina character like Echo, this idea is incredibly crucial, as she has the opportunity to break down the misinformed stereotypes of hard of hearing and d/Deaf people that permeate pop culture. Thus far, Threw out‘s appearance in the MCU has been promising, and her Disney+ show can give Marvel fans the nuanced look at her character that she has always deserved.
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