The big appeal of Frank Miller's Daredevili on full-display throughout the collection which means gritty crime drama meets martial arts epic meets soap opera. The first issue involves Matt Murdock and Elektra fighting against the Hand, which is an assassin network that all commit suicide by dissolving if they fail in their missions. You can complain about Frank Miller's occidental otaku status and love of exaggerated Far East culture but he helped introduce appreciation for things like the martial arts as well as Asian culture to an entire generation of boys. That kind of multiculturalism is sorely needed now, IMHO, even if it's not from the most sensitive of places.
Also, ninjas are awesome.
The real appeal of this volume is the story of Elektra Natchios, which is told in a surprisingly short amount of time for someone who is considered one of the better female characters of all time. As an assassin who was unlike most women in Marvel comics at the time, she was popular with both male as well as female readers. It's not really a spoiler to say she eventually dies in one of the most famous murders in comic history which, sadly, feels like a creative mistake in retrospect since it was to make Matt more broody and he didn't really need help there. The fact the character was destined for a return but never really took off again is also a shame.
Matt Murdock does get a lot of excellent development this book with Frank Miller not having any inhibitions against making his main character unlikable. Matt deals with Elektra's poorly and grossly mistreats his "normal" girlfriend Heather. He also proves to be much more flexible about his 'no killing' rule than he even would have imagined. There's a genuinely shocking moment where he drops Bullseye in front of a train after he originally rescued him from. Watching him degenerate to making a deal with the Kingpin to bring down a corrupt politician is the first sign he's one of the most morally flexible heroes of Marvel's heroes (and dare I say, most interesting?).
A major theme of the book is Matt Murdock being a failure as a hero. In part because he doesn't stick to his principles but also because it's a harsher reality than in, say, Spiderman's book. When he tries to take down the Kingpin through legal means, the evidence is destroyed or witnesses prove uncooperative. He claims he wants to take Elektra down but never makes a move on her due to his own conflicted feelings. This is mirrored in Elektra's own journey as she becomes more and more a hypocrite to her own philosophy. She claims she wants to be her own woman and live free of any man but ends up taking up a job with the Kingpin for the money and security despite this violating even her flexible moral code.
Frank Miller's handling of the Kingpin and Bullseye is also great. Wilson Fisk is an appalling human being who murders without remorse but holds a peculiar code of honor. He always honors his deals and seems confused people take his actions personally. Bullseye remains an unstable psychopath who determines Matt Murdock's secret identity but because of his murderous mania, no one takes him seriously when he tells it. Also, you know, the fact Matt Murdock is blind and Daredevil is an acrobat.
The artwork is excellent and there are some truly memorable panels like Elektra's practicing, the Hand's first scenes, and the famous battle between Elektra versus Bullseye. Really, there's no duds except for the extremely out of place Iron Fist and Power Man cameos in the book. There's a somewhat grainy film noir tint to all the characters which, not at all coincidentally, reminded me of The Dark Knight Returns. This fits the crime fiction feel of the book and the scenes are evocative whether involving murderous giant ninjas or murderous politicians.
In conclusion, get this book if you love Daredevil. You won't be disappointed. It's a perfect mix of superheroes, martial arts, gritty crime drama, and moral ambiguity from characters who previously lived in a setting without much of it. Matt Murdock is a flawed and at times unlikable protagonist who does bad things for the right reasons and sometimes for the wrong ones. His emotional, angry personality was a big contrast to other heroes of the time but remains three-dimensional with it never drifting too far into the dark or light. Elektra remains one of my favorite characters in comics and this is the arc which made her famous even if it ends poorly. The villains, art, and twists are all well done throughout the book.