Scott Snyder was hailed as the man who was going to bring the detective back into "Detective Comics." This was going to be a Batman who scoured the streets and collected clues. This book was going to be about mystery. Though Batman is mostly a passenger in this issue, Jim Gordon steps up to the reins to deliver what is undoubtedly Snyder's strongest issue yet in Gotham City. This one-shot plays as an origin to James Gordon Jr and it is creepy. We get the past, right up to the present, but you still cannot guess the future.
Super cop Jim Gordon becomes the focus as he works to finally close a case that's haunted him for far too long. The case is intriguing and while it might seem convenient for it to overlap with a prior incident involving Gordon's son, the resolution could be decidedly inconvenient for many people involved. It's interesting that even with proof Gordon can't quit being a cop and still sides with his gut. Sometimes you just get a feeling and if one lead doesn't pay off then you chase up another.
James Jr fills this issue with his presence, or at least his family's assumption of his presence. He's the spooky elephant in the room. While he's had a few indiscretions in his time does that really make him evil? This quandary is the point of this issue, and maybe even this character; can anyone ever be forgiven or trusted once uncertainty is established? It's so easy to break a link yet so difficult to establish or mend one. Snyder does what any effective creator does with a great villain, he makes even the viewer uneasy and unsure.
This issue is insanely full of tension. It's rare for this medium to truly grip you into reading so carefully when a whole scene can be laid out on a page just waiting for a wandering eye to spoil a moment. Events escalate and have real impact as you progress through this issue. This is exactly how suspense should be written and paced. Every image means something and every line holds a weight that drags you down until you have to stop.
Francesco Francavilla shows us a seedy Gotham alongside a bright sunny holiday scene. And he fills both with scum and dread and the human element of evil. His color choices continue to impress and he elevates the story every chance he gets. There is one splash page where everything you need is given to you and yet you probably don't realize it. This is a master at play in so many ways.
As far as establishing a villain and setting the tone, this issue doesn't miss a beat. There's a haunting sadness that makes me wonder if James Jr. is this way and so the world reacts to him, or if he's slowly become this way because of how the world reacts to and treats him. There might be a major crime from the past lodged into the narrative but this is firmly a character piece. The Gordon men are all a little broken on the inside, some just realize it more than others. The stage is now completely set, lit, and dressed; the final act can commence.