After finishing this issue, I checked the cover to see who wrote it and wasn't surprised at all to learn that it was Layman. It's the type of tightly crafted story that we're used to getting from him, with nary a loose end left dangling or a secret motivation left unexplained.
First, I thought that it was particularly clever to reveal that Henshaw, the corrupt Internal Affairs officer assigned by Commissioner Loeb to help Gordon hunt down crooked cops working for the Black Mask, aided Gordon in his investigation so that he could use the information that they gathered as insurance against the Black Mask in case he turned on him. Other authors would've left Henshaw's decision to help Gordon for a week before betraying him go without any explanation; Layman uses it as a great reminder of how crooked the G.C.P.D. was in those days, with everyone crossing and double-crossing each other. Moreover, he actually pins the denouement on it, since it's Gordon's hunch about Henshaw's motives that sends him to Henshaw's apartment after Henshaw tries to kill him and produces the evidence that allows Gordon to prove that Roman Sionis was the Black Mask. In the end, we're all left with an appreciation of the dark days that plagued Gotham during this era and a reminder of the breath of fresh air that Jim Gordon was for the G.C.P.D.
Moreover, this issue is great not just because of Layman's tight storytelling. He also uses the DCnU's blank slate to great effect here, teasing us throughout the issue whether or not Commissioner Loeb is as corrupt now as he was in the DCU. The revelation that he was instead just a defeated man was all the more powerful thanks to the tension building to the reveal; Layman made sure that we were aware that we were waiting for a definitive answer.
Finally, Layman gets in some good fan-wanking here; we not only see the start of the Gordon-Bullock relationship, when Bullock saves Gordon for his other corrupt partner, but also the genesis of the Bat-Symbol.
Moving past Layman's work, we do get an example of pet peeve #1 here, when the title page reveals that "Zero Year" refers to the devastating year that Gotham experiences as a result of the Riddler turning out the electricity right before it's hit by the oncoming Superstorm Sandy-esque storm. It makes the connection with the first issue of "Zero Year" (where Batman is riding a horse in devastated Gotham) and shows us that this arc isn't just about Snyder trying to give us his own "Batman: Year One," but also a separate story about Gotham. The expansion of Snyder's stories into other Bat-family titles was pretty disastrous in "Night of the Owls" and "Death of the Family. However, even if I'm annoyed by the way that "Zero Year's" dual levels were revealed, it might actually work here, giving us a large enough story by focusing not just on Batman, but on Gotham as a whole. If the other tie-in issues are like this one, I'll be a happy camper.
**** (four of five stars)