Spoilers for The Defenders beyond this point. After briefly re-emerging in Iron Fist Season 1, the shadowy underground organization known as the Hand is more dangerous than ever under the direction of Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver) and her colleagues. But if you're hoping there might be something in the comics that could offer a clue as to their true purpose, think again; the Five Fingers of the Hand in Marvel Comics are very different than their TV show counterparts.
In Episode 4 of The Defenders, Stick reveals that the Hand were once five members of his order, the Chaste, who used the ancient K’un Lun method of harnessing chi to practice healing. However, these five instead wanted to find ways to stave off death and unnaturally prolong their lives, so they were banished for being heretics. They became “the Five Fingers of the Hand,” and now wield profound influence over their countries of origin.
While this story sounds very ominous and cool coming from Stick, it’s also entirely invented for the TV show; in fact, the idea of a council of regional Hand leaders is actually a pretty new concept as far as the comics go. When the Hand made their very first appearance as Daredevil villains in 1981, they weren’t depicted as much more than a shadowy group of supernatural ninjas, albeit with some prominent members here and there.
As far as I can tell, the “Five Fingers of the Hand” being a metaphor for different leaders first arose in Daredevil #505, during a 2010 story arc where Matt Murdock becomes Supreme Leader of the Hand. Hoping to use the organization as a force for good, he gathers up what he refers to as the daimyo or “regional warlords,” telling fellow crimefighter Angela del Toro that “the Hand has five fingers. When they close into a fist, the Hand is unstoppable.”
Although Alexandra, Madame Gao, Sowande, and Murakami appear to be entirely new characters created for the Marvel television series, Iron Fist villain Bakuto does make an appearance in this arc as the daimyo of South America. Polygon also notes that Bakuto and the rest of the leaders of the Hand — with the exception of Murdock and del Toro, who serves as the North American daimyo — were originally all portrayed as Japanese. In particular, Bakuto’s entire aesthetic and even his name are meant as a send-up of Yakuza stereotypes.
However, this wasn’t the first time that the metaphor of the Five Fingers was used in Marvel Comics; it also appeared in Elektra: The Hand. This 2004-2005 miniseries told the story of Kagenobu Yoshioka, the original revolutionary who founded first the Hand in 1588 as a way to keep Japan free of foreign influence. “The hand has five fingers, each of which can exist independently of others. Not unlike the five islands that form Japan,” Yoshioka says at one point to a rival martial arts teacher. “However, when the five fingers of the hand come together for a single, unified purpose… the hand becomes an object of unwavering power!”
As the mini-series explains, Yoshioka was eventually ousted by the rest of the Hand, who almost immediately turned to the dark arts. Also interesting to note: as of Ed Brubaker’s 2008 Daredevil run, in the comics it’s actually the Chaste that split off from the Hand, when an original member of the group named Master Izo left the Hand after Yoshioka’s death to form a counter-group.
Of course, there's a silver lining to all of this; because the backstory of Netflix's Hand is so distinct from that of its comic book counterpart, the show can go in all kinds of different directions without having to adhere to what fans expect. Hopefully, that'll make The Defenders so much more exciting to watch.