When the Phoenix Force is given a host that isn’t a mutant you tend to get a lot of unhappy X-Men fans. Being wildly unfamiliar with the Daredevil comics, I picked up two random middle issues of “Phoenix Song: Echo” thinking that she might be a new X-character. I saw that Echo, aka Maya Lopez, was deaf and indigenous and said “Yes, please!” without really investigating further. It wasn’t until I mentioned my find to a friend that I realized she wasn’t an X-character and promptly went through the five stages of grief.
However, I am now here to encourage all disgruntled/suspicious X-fans concerned about a non-mutant Phoenix Force host to give Echo a chance. We actually see that same sort of suspicion play out in canon with Forge, who decides, based on past familiarity with the Phoenix Force, that he knows best and that Maya needs to give up the Phoenix Force. While Maya is having trouble with control, Forge should frankly know better. I can’t think of a single time that trying to forcibly subdue the Phoenix Force has gone well, like… that’s literally how Jean Grey went Dark Phoenix.
“Phoenix Song: Echo” is all about the ‘who’ and ‘why’ of Maya and the Phoenix. Who is Maya that the Phoenix felt she was the right host? With the Adversary looming large and wanting the Phoenix Force for himself, Maya has to go back through the past to figure out who she is as the Phoenix and if her ancestors can help her. But it’s not that simple, because it never is. Maya is being helped by River, the adopted grandson of a family friend, and River… River is all tied up with the Adversary.
I found Maya’s journey of self/Phoenix discovery to be incredibly compelling, and it was compelling even before we get to the reveal of her (spoilers) Phoenix host ancestor. The Phoenix Force has long been tied to questions and dilemmas of self and personhood, from Jean Grey to Quentin Quire, and Maya Lopez slots very neatly into this.
This mini-series was also a breath of fresh air for me regarding indigenous and disability representation. Marvel has historically not been particularly good about either of those things, Native characters get reduced to stereotype and disabilities get ignored. Maya, as she is portrayed here—I cannot speak to earlier iterations of her character—is well written to both points. Key for me, is that her ability to read lips isn’t perfect, even bolstered by her powers. She struggles with unfamiliar accents, can’t read lips in the dark, and knows sign language when lip reading is impossible due to language barrier.
I will say that I would have liked to have seen more of Maya learning from her ancestors, particularly the Phoenix Force ancestor. The narrative jumped very quickly through Maya’s past, her talking to her ancestor about the Phoenix powers, and then to Maya fighting the Adversary and a weird hallucination, which I think boiled down to the fact that there was a lot to cover for a five-issue mini-series. Personally, I would have loved to see this as a longer run series, since Maya is now probably my favorite non-X character.
As always, check your local comic shop for trades and single issues, but “Phoenix Song: Echo” can also be purchased online here.