When Netflix’s “Daredevil” returned for its second season, I was filled with hope because the show promised to introduce Marvel Cinematic Universe versions of the Punisher and Elektra. In top of that, there was a chance they might even introduce the Hand, the ninja clan that has terrorized Marvel Comics’ Hell’s Kitchen for decades.
Sure enough, in episode 8 the Hand arrived, and I was excited. At first, the Hand seemed pretty close to their Marvel Universe counterparts; they were mysterious, sinister and seemingly everywhere. But by the end of the season, the shine had begun to wear off this version of the Hand. As they were bound up in a exposition about the apocalyptic “Black Sky,” their plot line served mainly to take time away from the ultimately far more interesting Punisher and Wilson Fisk stories.
Then Netflix’s “Iron Fist” arrived — and the shine on the MCU’s Hand was gone entirely. Instead of the relentless and creepy ninja hordes we know and love from the Marvel Universe we were given a crime cartel with no real identity whose ultimate goal at one point was selling super heroin. Another unfortunate point of “Iron Fist” was it set the Hand up as the major antagonist for August’s “Defenders” series which teams the four protagonists from the other Netflix shows together. So when the Defenders unite they’ll be joining forces to combat a villainous organization that has gone from having lots of potential to being just plain dull.
Hopefully the writers of “The Defenders” will rectify that and give their title characters a compelling and worthy foe. In this article we’ll examine some of the ways they can do that.
Stay True to the Comics
What’s great about the comic incarnation of the Hand is they’re a combination of two common tropes in genre and fantastic fiction: the demon worshipping cult, and the ninja horde. Melding those two concepts together creates something new and interesting, a shadowy force that can appear anywhere with minions who have pledged their loyalty (and in some cases sacrificed their humanity) to a sinister, supernatural power. You got some hints of that in Season 2 of “Daredevil,” but in “Iron Fist,” Hand agents were often just normal humans. You even saw their faces, a decision that ruined much of the mystique and more sinister aspects of the clan.
When the rank and file agents of the Hand attack in “Defenders,” they should swarm out of the shadows and, most of all, they should be scary. We shouldn’t be able to see any signs of their humanity, no faces or eyes. They don’t have to necessarily wear ninja outfits, either — the cultists in the recent indy horror movie “The Void” are a good model to base them on, as a matter of fact.
When Frank Miller introduced Marvel fans to the Hand in his legendary “Daredevil” run, readers also met one of the group’s most infamous members: Kirigi, a super-strong, invulnerable, taciturn ninja. He was basically Jason Voorhees reimagined as a ninja killer.
In his debut story arc, Kirigi is stabbed, impaled, hit by a semi, and set on fire — and still gets up, ready to kill. When Elektra decapitates him he finally goes down for good. Or so she thinks. Kirigi would make a good early and intimidating foe for the Defenders. It would also allow the show writers to have some fun with a slasher movie style villain, the kind of trope we haven’t really seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Resurrection Should Be More Mysterious… And Far More Sinister
Part of the problem with making the Hand the central villains of “Daredevil” Season 2 and “Iron Fist” is, we now know way too much about them and what they can do. We don’t know, yet, how their resurrections work (and hopefully we’ll never be given the full extent of how they pull it off), but we know that decapitation ends the resurrection cycle. We also know from “Iron Fist’s” use of David Wenham’s Harold Meachum that resurrection transforms people into evil caricatures of their former selves.
That’s way too much information. Think of how much cooler that last fight with Bakuto in “Iron Fist” would have been if we didn’t know why the Hand leader disappeared after receiving a seemingly fatal wound!
Another problem is how the resurrected were treated, as over the top, hammy, narcissistic villains like Harold Meachum. There should be a scariness to them. Bakuto and Nobu were a good start; hopefully when Elektra comes back as the Black Sky, as the end of “Daredevil” the first “Defenders” trailer indicates she will, there will be a sense of horror and evil in Elodie Yung’s portrayal of the character.
Snakeroot & the Beast
This goes back to the first point about the Hand being a demon worshipping cult of ninjas. So far, we’ve seen next to nothing about the mythology and belief system that binds them together. We know from “Daredevil” that they were looking for an apocalyptic weapon/Antichrist-style figure in Elektra/Black Sky, and in “Iron Fist” members of their order wanted to corrupt and take control of the Iron Fist. The question though is, why? “Defenders” should offer some insight into that, and the answer should be the demonic Beast and the Snakeroot Cult that worships it.
Frank Miller introduced the Beast into the mythos of the Hand back in his and Bill Sienkiewicz’s 1986-1987 miniseries “Elektra: Assassin.” In 1993, writer D.G. Chichester added to it by introducing the Snakeroot Cult, which worships the Beast and serves as the Hand’s inner circle. The Cult and their demonic master are the powers that corrupted the Hand in 1590, when they transformed them from an organization battling a corrupt Japanese government into a full blown demonic cult.
Our guess is that Sigourney Weaver’s mysterious character, Alexandra, may be the current head of Snakeroot. It would also give the Hand’s master plan a more of an apocalyptic edge. We don’t yet know what the Hand’s goal is, but with the four Marvel Netflix heroes gathering to stop it, the end game needs to be big, and, more importantly, it need to be fun! Let’s have the Hand do something like try to bring the Beast to Earth via a vessel like they attempted to do in the 2010 “Shadowland” event. The door to supernatural and cosmic horror in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is now wide open, thanks to films like “Doctor Strange” and the presence of characters and concepts like Ghost Rider and the Darkhold on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Let’s build on that!
With the exception of “Iron Fist” (and the less said about that, the better), the Marvel Netflix shows have tried to stay grounded. With “The Defenders,” however, it’s time to embrace the horror genre and show viewers what that would look like in a world of street-level superheroes. Doing so would not only give the Hand a much needed rehabilitation, it would also elevate the show’s humor, give the title characters a really good reason to band together, give the series some real stakes, and ultimately make Marvel’s Netflix universe a heck of a lot more fun.
I’d like to give a tip of the hat to “Entering Shadowland: A History of the Snakeroot,” a post by Aaron Kimmel from June 19th, 2010 on the website, “The Other Murdock Papers”