The Hand’s Marvel Comics History Reveals The Ancient Mission Of This ‘Defenders’ Foe
At long last, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist are all teaming up in The Defenders, premiering Aug. 18, the latest Netflix show set in the street-level Marvel Cinematic Universe. But what could be a big enough threat to bring all four of these individualistic heroes together? If your guess "a shadowy organization of supernatural ninjas," then congratulations, you got it in one — like Daredevil and Iron Fist have done in on past seasons of their show, the Defenders will be taking on the Hand. But like all things that get adapted from the page to the screen, the comic book history of the Hand is a little different than you'd expect.
It’s fitting that the Hand first appeared on screen as villains of Daredevil way back in the show’s first season; they were created by legendary writer Frank Miller in 1981 as part of his iconic Daredevil run. Basically, Netflix wouldn’t have this show if it weren’t for Miller. In addition to inventing the Hand, he also created Daredevil’s mentor, Stick, his former lover, Elektra, introduced Kingpin as a villain (previously he’d only appeared Spider-Man comics), and squared Daredevil off against The Punisher for the first time.
The Hand made their debut in Daredevil #174 in 1981, when the Kingpin manipulated them into attempting to kill both Matt Murdock and Daredevil (not knowing they are the same person, of course). Although the ninja are at first mysterious, it’s clear that Elektra has faced them before in her career as an assassin for hire, and they appear to have some kind of supernatural powers — when Matt defeats them, their bodies completely dissolve away.
After Elektra and Daredevil teamed up to fight them off, along with one of the Hand's best fighters, Kirigi "The Immortal," they disappeared for a little while. Then things really came to a head starting in Issue #187, when it was revealed that the Hand can raise people from the dead.
It was also revealed that Stick, who was introduced a few issues prior as a gritty old mentor of Daredevil’s, is a member of another group: the Chaste, which exists solely to fight the Hand. Not soon after this discovery, Stick dies helping Daredevil and Black Widow (they used to team up a lot, actually) escape the Hand.
Then, of course, the big kicker: in #190, Elektra was resurrected from death, after an in-depth look into her backstory that revealed she trained with both the Chaste and the Hand. hoping to infiltrate the latter after the former cast her out.
Frank Miller returned to writing more Hand stories in Elektra: Assassin in 1986, where he finally invented a source for all of the Hand's supernatural powers — they worship a demon known as The Beast, which occasionally possesses hosts and feeds on the nihilism and chaos that the Hand sow across the world. In the 2010 Shadowland story arc, the Beast even possessed Daredevil himself, who basically became the leader of the Hand as a result. Naturally, he got a cool black uniform to match his villainous turn.
The 2005 miniseries Elektra: The Hand also fleshed out the Hand's backstory by suggesting that the group was originally founded in 1588 by a man named Kagenobu Yoshioka (that's where the name of "Nobu" from the first season of Daredevil comes from) as a terrorist organization meant to keep foreigners out of Japan. When he was killed in a mutiny, the remaining leaders sought out the powers of the Beast as a way to reincarnate his lover into a living weapon for their cause.
Although the Hand are best associated with Daredevil and Elektra, you can still find them all over the place in the Marvel universe; they also sometimes fight Wolverine, Spider-Man, and the Avengers, and occasionally work with other Marvel villains like HYDRA. They also had a big part in the modern origin of the X-Men character Psylocke, who used to be white and is now inhabiting the body of an Asian ninja woman named Kwannon (Comics are completely bonkers sometimes, in case you didn't know).
Despite their association with Iron Fist in the TV series, however, they don't tend to show up in his comics very much. Aside from Harold Meachum, Danny Rand doesn't actually have that many iconic villains of his own to speak of, so it's likely the showrunners figured their mystical powers would serve as a good foil to the ones that Danny picks up in K'un Lun.
Also, just as a fun aside: the Hand are the reason the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fight the “Foot” clan, because TMNT was intended as a direct parody of Frank Miller’s Daredevil. Think about it. They got their powers from a radioactive substance and their mentor is named “Splinter.”
Of course, the Hand that appears in the Daredevil and Iron Fist shows is not the same one that appears in Marvel comics, which means there are probably still plenty of surprises in store. It'll be interesting to see going forward how the show continues to adapt this organization... although I wouldn't hold your breath on a live-action version of the Beast anytime soon.