- The Hard Master is a character from the A Real American Hero comics continuity.
The Hard Master was the head of the Arashikage Clan, who trained many ninjas including his nephew Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes. His murder drove the former into Cobra and the latter eventually into the G.I. Joe Team.
A Real American Hero comics continuity - Marvel Comics
The Arashikage Clan of ninjas, based in Japan, was run in many ways like a family firm, with the Hard Master serving as President & Chairman of the Board. His brother, the "Soft Master", served as Vice President (Finance) and the third member of the board was their nephew Tommy Arashikage, the "Young Master", a junior partner.
During the Vietnam War Tommy served in the US Army where he met the man who would be known as Snake-Eyes. The two became very close friends and Tommy offered his comrade a place in the family firm. After their service was over the offer was accepted. Snake-Eyes became a member of the Clan and in many ways proved an even better ninja than Tommy. Snake-Eyes was growing in the favour of the Hard Master and this led to the belief that he, rather than Tommy, might one day succeed the Hard Master as head of the clan and led to rivalry between them.
One evening the Hard Master was teaching Snake-Eyes "Darkened Room" techniques known as "Blind Sword" when Snake-Eyes heard a third person in the courtyard. But the Hard Master didn't believe there was any danger and went behind a screen to continue the training, imitating someone and challenging Snake-Eyes to identify the impression. It was Snake-Eyes himself. Suddenly an arrow came through the screen and killed him. The Soft Master rushed into the courtyard to see Tommy rushing away with a bow and assumed he was chasing the intruder. But the arrow was one of Tommy's and only he had the skill to aim by sound and force to fire it. However the dying Hard Master denied Tommy's guilt. Tommy never returned and the family business disbanded. Later they learnt that Tommy had become a Cobra agent using the family name "Storm Shadow". For a long time the Soft Master believed that it was Tommy who killed the Hard Master, but had really been targeting Snake-Eyes.
Years later Snake-Eyes, now a member of the G.I. Joe team, encountered Storm Shadow once more. During a confrontation in New York they finally discussed matters. Storm Shadow explained that he didn't kill his uncle. The arrow was his but it had been taken from a squirrel he shot in practice that day. He saw a masked bowman fleeing onto a Cobra helicopter. Since then Storm Shadow had spent years working his way up in Cobra in the hope that one day he would rank highly enough to learn the identity of the killer. Snake-Eyes subsequently revealed this to the Soft Master. Storm Shadow eventually realised he would not learn the secret, no matter how trusted he was, and deserted Cobra.
Meanwhile the Soft Master infiltrated the Cobra town of Springfield, and discovered the identity of the killer but died before he could share it. However before he died he sent a partial message to Snake-Eyes, who joined with Storm Shadow. They noted that everyone thought the Hard Master was killed by a ninja because the killer was able to hear through a wall, pull a very powerful bow to fire an arrow through a wall, the Hard Master and the practice pole in one shot. But all this could have been done with technology - "with a compound bow fitted with sound amplification-directional-ranging equipment" - and by someone who could change his appearance to walk onto the grounds unnoticed. All this pointed to one Cobra agent - Zartan.