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Marvel quietly admits there’s too much MCU homework

A new Marvel Spotlight banner will, like your favorite teacher, let you know there’s no homework required

Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin, raises an open bloodied hand toward a young Maya Lopez, aka Echo, in a still from the first trailer for Marvel Studios’ Echo TV series. Image: Marvel Studios
Joshua Rivera (he/him) is an entertainment and culture journalist specializing in film, TV, and video game criticism, the latest stop in a decade-plus career as a critic.

Marvel Studios has been too good at its job. After 15 years of building up the MCU as the ultimate interconnected saga, audiences have really taken to heart the idea that they need to see everything in order to catch the latest release. This was always going to be a concern — 15 years is a long time! Teenagers that saw Iron Man in theaters are now paying mortgages, spry adults circa 2008 now have to schedule “regular colonoscopy screenings.” It’s a different world, man!

But when taken in conjunction with the wider Marvel Studios turmoil, a nominal concern becomes a five-alarm fire. People need to know, or at least feel, like every new MCU show or film doesn’t come with a lengthy homework assignment. Marvel’s solution, then, is a new banner called Marvel Spotlight, which will debut when Echo premieres on Disney Plus and Hulu in Jan. 10, 2024.

A special early screening of Echo showed off the new banner, which comes with a title card and its own piano fanfare by Michael Giacchino, the famed Lost and Ratatouille composer also responsible for the regular Marvel Studios tune (and director of MCU TV movie Werewolf by Night). Developing a pre-roll title card for Spotlight titles signals just how serious Marvel is about letting people know about the studio’s intent here. In Echo’s case, according to Marvel Head of Streaming Brad Winderbaum, that’s to say “just like comics fans didn’t need to read Avengers or Fantastic Four to enjoy a Ghost Rider Spotlight comic, our audience doesn’t need to have seen other Marvel series to understand what’s happening in Maya’s story [in Echo].”

Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) and Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) in Marvel Studios’ Hawkeye Photo: Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

It is ironic that this is being used for a show about a character that was introduced in Hawkeye, with ties to a character from Daredevil, but that is neither here nor there. Ideally, every story stands alone well enough to enjoy, and only gets better when you see the connections. That Marvel feels Echo, about deaf mob enforcer Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox), is worth signaling as a fresh start to audiences is probably as good a sign as any to those feeling a bit leery of the MCU.

In becoming the ultimate superhero comic book adaptation, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has inherited the ultimate superhero comic book problem: What to do when continuity stops being an asset and becomes a hurdle to clear. In its publishing, Marvel most famously responded to this problem by starting over with 2000’s Ultimate Marvel line, updating its characters for the new millennium in a way that would inform the MCU. The classic versions stayed in print, unbothered, but Ultimate Marvel gave creators and readers space for bolder and more divergent takes on classic heroes.

After about 15 years, however — there’s that number again — Ultimate Marvel’s continuity became as thorny as the mothership, and the whole thing ended.

Marvel’s Spotlight banner is not nearly as radical an idea, but it’s the first time MCU brass has really gestured at the fact that the project is not immune to its source material’s fatal flaw: The very thing that makes it interesting will, eventually, make it off-putting for a while. It’s normal! Nothing stays on top forever.

But hope springs eternal. Did you hear? Marvel is starting up its Ultimate Comics line again. Will it succeed? Will Spotlight work? Who knows. Let’s check in again in 15 years.