The Hand has stalked the shadows of the Marvel Universe for the last 35 years, much to the delight of audiences across a wide of range of Marvel titles. First introduced in the pages of Daredevil, the ninja assassins have menaced superheroes from Wolverine to Spider-Man to the Avengers themselves. Armed with dark powers that allow them to vanish or become one with the shadows, the Hand has become a mainstay within the pages of Marvel Comics, and a threat to anyone within range of their lethal array of weaponry.
Despite dozens of appearances over the three decades plus of their existence, there is fairly little known about these elite shadow killers, even as they begin to encroach on the borders of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well. The members of the Hand read as a who’s who of some of the deadliest villains known, as well as several people considered heroes by the world at large. Read on for more fun factoids you didn't know about the unseen, unstoppable killing machines collectively known as the Hand.
The Hand was created by Frank Miller in 1981 and debuted in Daredevil v1 #174. The idea was to create a foil for the character of Elektra, a character Miller had created and was heavily invested in. The introduction of the band of mystic ninjas allowed Frank Miller to play to one of his strongest influences – Japanese manga.
Along with film noir, manga and anime form the solid foundation of Frank’s dynamic and exaggerated style, and it was a natural extension to using elements of the Japanese culture behind the art form in his own work. The Hand was a way not only to better flesh out Elektra’s character, but it also helped to shape the character of Murdock himself. Because of the Hand, Miller is able to introduce the character of Stick, the blind mentor, and it proves to be an invaluable tool when it comes to explaining why and how Daredevil’s unique fighting skills are as strong as they are -- despite, you know, the character being blind and all.
The Hand began as an offshoot of the followers of Ninjitsu eight hundred years ago in feudal Japan. One school of practitioners had become frustrated with their role as enforcers and killers for powerful outsiders who might not always have the best interests of Japan in mind. The Hand represented the unification of Japan and prospered…for a while. This changes when the Snakeroot clan of ninjas attacks the Hand, killing their sensei and corrupting them into a cult devoted solely to the worship of the Beast.
For over four billion years, the Beast has wanted one thing with a single driving fervor -- the eradication of all life and all light. In Wolverine v3 #26, the Hand allies with HYDRA and a splinter group of deadly mutants known as The Dawn of the White Light to bring about that apocalyptic vision. Their plan hinges on the Gorgon, a superhumanly intelligent mutant who can turn others to stone with a look, and who pledged himself, body and soul to the Hand long ago.
First appearing in Daredevil v1 #187, the Chaste arrive in response to the brutal murder of Elektra a few months earlier. The Hand is seeking Elektra’s corpse to resurrect and bind her once again to themselves and the Beast that they serve. With Stick, the man who kept Matt Murdock from being driven mad by his senses, and Stone, his nearly invulnerable right-hand man (get it? Stick and Stone?) Daredevil battles to keep the Hand at bay long enough to destroy her body.
The three of them, along with MCU favorite Black Widow, scour the city to find where the Hand has taken Elektra’s body. Ultimately, Murdock and Stone crash the ritual to bring Elektra back, but Daredevil hears her heartbeat, and tries his best to bring her back himself. Though Murdock fails to revive Elektra, he manages to cleanse her of the Hand’s corruption, allowing Stone to resurrect her and denying the Hand of their weapon.
There is no way to separate oneself from the Hand once you have been bound to them. Any who leave are branded an eternal enemy of the ninja school, and will be hunted forevermore. This has never been truer than it is of the legendary Master Izo. A 500-year-old former member of the Hand and founder of the Chaste, Master Izo is anything but chaste.
Master Izo is the fighter who taught Stick, the blind man who went on to train Matt Murdock himself. He was exiled for a taste for gambling, women, and wine that persists to the modern day. Having been hunted by the Hand for hundreds of years, Izo is instrumental in Murdock’s attempt to bend the will of the Hand toward the light. Izo is also mentioned in the myths and writings of K’un L’un, thus making a crossover into Netflix’s upcoming Iron Fist series a distinct possibility as well.
In Amazing Spider-Man v1 #421, the leader of the True Believers has come to slaughter his former lover to prove his allegiance to the shadowy group. Through random circumstance, Peter Parker has been drawn into the conflict with this offshoot faction of the Hand. But all is not as it seems, as the True Believers are every bit the assassins for hire that the Hand is, and it becomes clear that this splinter group has become embroiled in a war with the underworld.
The web-slinger faces off with them again when they are contracted to murder Robbie Robinson. Spidey arrives in time to prevent the killing, but things get kicked into overdrive when Electro shows up to challenge the True Believers, because he’s working for the opposition. Forced to combat both antagonists, in the end, Spider-Man suffers a defeat as both the assassins and Electro escape, leaving Spidey with nothing but egg on his face to show for his bruises.
Miguel O’Hara, aka Spider-Man 2099, must face another sect of the Hand in issue #17 of the third volume of his self-titled comic series. Elektra Natchios stalks the group over 70 years in the future. determined to eliminate every last vestige of the Hand. The Fist, meanwhile, seeks nothing less than the destruction of the United States of America.
Having traveled back from 2099 to our present time, Spider-Man and the future Captain America battle the Fist for the sake of their own futures. The opposing factions fight their way to the emissary of the Fist, a mysterious woman who is clearly linked to the horrific changes affecting people across New York City. (The Fist is turning people into bloodthirsty, reptilian monsters in their attempt to bring down the U.S. They're not the nicest people you'll ever meet.) It appears the Fist is going to be triumphant before Elektra manages to impale the woman on one of her deadly sai. With the woman’s death, the enchantment appears to be broken, and the dozens of affected people quickly revert back to normal.
Bruce Banner is dead, having been killed by Hawkeye, and his body is being hunted for by the Hand. The Hand wants the gamma radiation expert's corpse so that they may resurrect the Hulk and use his immense strength to further their nihilist objectives. Using their connections, they are able to discover the location of the body and exhume it. A contingent of superhumans -- featuring members of Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and the Hellfire Club (and Deadpool), Elektra and Doctor Voodoo -- try to find Banner’s corpse before the Hand can bring him back, but despite their efforts, they're too late.
A soulless, silent Hulk soon thunders toward a nearby Japanese village as the team tries to stop him. Even the staggering amount of powerful heroes and villains (and Deadpool!) led by Captain America barely manage to slow the monster down as Doctor Voodoo prepares to engage him on the spiritual plane. Voodoo is able to cut through the magicks of the Hand to treat and release Banner’s soul, freeing him and taking away the Hulk as a weapon for the shadow organization before things got too out of hand.
Elektra, the most recent leader of the Hand, is dead, and has been revealed to be a Skrull. Without a decisive head, the cohesion of the various factions of the band of assassins has fractured, setting the Hand at war with itself. Matt Murdock has been chosen to take up the mantle of leader of the Hand, and in preparation for the position, the Hand is dismantling his life and destroying his reputation. His friends and family have been attacked, while his allies have been killed or bent to the will of the Hand. Their actions are meant to divorce Matt Murdock from the ties that bind him to the outside world, freeing him to accept their gift because he simply has nowhere else to go.
Even with all these things in motion, Murdock still manages to resist the Hand. What finally forces him to accept in Daredevil v2 #500 is realizing that if he doesn’t govern the group himself, leadership of an army of trained assassins will fall to a resurgent Kingpin, who is showing signs of mental illness. It was a bit of a lose-lose scenario.
As we mentioned, for the last four billion years, the demonic creature known as the Beast has sought to eradicate life on Earth and throughout the universe. The Hand worships this creature, and all their magicks derive from the power the demon holds. The cult considers itself the Hand of the Beast, clawing at the foundation of man’s lie in the name of the one called the Jackal’s Son. The Beast, for its part, prefers to work through its human agents, and seldom manifests itself or takes charge directly.
It is the Beast who possesses Matt Murdock during the events of Shadowland. Daredevil’s grudging command of the ninja army drives him to become ever more brutal, sadistic even, in his methods of fighting crime in Hell’s Kitchen. Each successive act of violence opens Murdock’s soul to ever increasing amounts of the Hand’s evil, and by the end, Matt becomes the incarnation of the Beast, an infernal creature of horns and hate.
In Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow #1, Colleen Wing has run afoul of the law for the best of reasons. In an attempt to free victims of human trafficking, she stages an assault on the massage parlor the victims are being held in. Because of the fact that the front is perfectly legitimate and there is no clear-cut criminal activity present, Colleen is arrested for trespassing and assault.
Daredevil, now leader of the Hand, offers Colleen a chance to serve the group as her mother did, as a member of an elite squad of female warriors known as the Nail. He chooses other women who are direct descendants of the original members of the Nail, all of whom were killed 25 years ago. Their raids go almost perfectly, except for Colleen's inability to get her team to stop killing their targets. When a friend of Colleen’s who doesn’t run in the same circles finds herself on the wrong side of Daredevil and the Hand, Colleen is forced to go against the Nail, an act which could cost her her life.
Having assumed the role of leader of the Hand for the purely best of reasons, it now falls on Matt Murdock to somehow use the army of assassins and not be turned by their nihilistic evil. This turns out to be far easier said than done, as Daredevil employs increasingly more brutal ways of dealing out justice. Soon, friends and allies on both sides of the Man Without Fear’s persona must join together to stop him, and realize its already too late. Matt Murdock has been possessed by (and become the living incarnation of) the Beast, and now seeks to turn the entire world to ashes.
Heroes including Luke Cage, Shang-Chi, Spider-Man and Danny Rand fall in order to give Murdock the opening he needs to let Elektra guide him through ritual suicide. With Murdock dead, Wilson Fisk rises to fill the power vacuum in Shadowland #5, assuming the role he always knew was meant for him and him alone.
Like we’ve mentioned in past articles, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird tipped their hats to the brilliance of the late '80s Daredevil run from Frank Miller and Klaus Janson in the mega hit Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. At the time, Eastman and Laird were just struggling artists working for fledgling Mirage Studios, a publisher that was famous for…well, actually they weren’t famous at all. But the little sketch of a turtle that stood on its hind legs and fought with nunchucks was such a ludicrously funny idea, they couldn’t help but run with it.
Borrowing heavily from the Daredevil mythos, the story of four mutated turtles soon became an empire, and made Eastman and Laird comic book legends. One of the more satirical takes on the influences they drew upon for the TMNT back story was a ninja antagonist who led a shadowy army of ninja assassins known as…the Foot. So…you get it? Hand? Foot? Yeah, well…stuff was funnier in the '80s.
Betsy Braddock, aka Psylocke, had been a telepath, and Captain Britain’s sister. There wasn’t much more to the character until she was kidnapped by Mojo and had her mind wiped for the sake of better television ratings (it's a long story). Rescued by the New Mutants and meshed into the X-Men, Psylocke is with them when the Reavers attack and decimate the heroes. With no alternative but to flee, the mutant heroes retreat into the Siege Perilous, an extra-dimensional portal that leads those who enter to new destinies. She is found confused and in shock by the operatives of the Hand, and has her consciousness remolded by being forced to kill the X-Men in her mind.
By murdering her old teammates in Uncanny X-Men v1 #256, she murders her “heroic” persona as well, and becomes bound to the mystic group of ninja cultists instead. It is only through the intercession of Wolverine that she is able to break the hold the Hand has on her and reestablish her own identity.
One of the primary ways the Hand inducts members is by way of killing/resurrecting them with their minds and souls bound to the Beast. The list of victims this practice has claimed runs through the Marvel Universe and is essentially a who’s who of the most powerful super beings in existence. When a victim is resurrected through the Hand, the most negative aspects of their personality are exploited and magnified. Pain, rage, betrayal and jealousy are emotions that the Hand uses to destroy any goodness and decency within the person, until once restored to life, all that remains is the darkness -- and devotion to the Hand and the Beast, of course.
While some have managed to shake off the effects of the conditioning and mind control of the resurrection process, the damage done to the psyche of their victims is usually irreversible. One of the first instances in comics was the attempted resurrection of Elektra in Daredevil v1 #190, though plenty of others have found themselves at the Hand's mercy over the years.
The Hand has factored heavily into the MCU with the steamroller success of the two seasons of Netflix’s Daredevil series. While no official details on season three of Daredevil exist at the time of this writing, having gotten through season two and armed with an understanding of the Hand, certain speculatory predictions can be made.
With the death of Elektra and the theft of her body, it is reasonable to assume that the Hand will be attempting to resurrect the elite assassin, and that Daredevil and Stick will be looking to stop them. Given that the brilliant Vincent D’Onofrio is both expecting and looking forward to reprising his role as Wilson Fisk, the Shadowland storyline could conceivably make it to the screen in the very near future. Considering what we know of Netflix’s plans for their increasing army of heroes -- namely Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, the Punisher, and the Defenders -- it wouldn’t be out of the question to think that we'll soon see D’Onofrio’s frightening depiction of the Kingpin at the helm of the mystic army of assassins. We would be completely on board with this, to say the least.
What else should comic/Netflix fans know about the Hand? Just how big of a role do you think they'll be playing in the MCU? Sound off in the comments.