One day, long ago, young Bruce Wayne is in the theatre, by himself, watching Zorro, when Commissioner Gordon enters the theatre, and tells him that he's under arrest. ZERO YEAR!
Back to the present...sorta, Bruce wakes up, and spoiler alert, the serum he was injected with was a crude anti-toxin to counteract Dr. Death's serum. Speaking of Dr. Death, he's attacking Lucius, who also doesn't react to Death's serum. Bruce tries to save Lucius, by hitting Death with a pipe, but Death's bones react to trauma by growing and distorting in a very strange way.
Death hits back, sending Bruce across the room, causing Lucius to call out to him by name. Death just realizes that this is Bruce Wayne, who he's very interested in talking to, about some deep secrets rooted in the young billionaire's past. Bruce throws his belt to distract Death into a trap, where Bruce blows him back to a chamber with the force of a jet engine, then goes to help Lucius.
The two trie to escape, but Death comes back even weirder looking than before, and puts the death grip on Bruce's skull, almost shattering it, if it wasn't for Gordon, who shows up and puts a bullet through Death, causing him to run into the darkness.
Cut to: Bruce in the middle east or somewhere in something of a death chamber, being told that his father is on the line (probably Alfred) and that he should speak with him, for he's to die soon.
Bruce wakes up in the hospital some time later, with Alfred standing over him. Turns out, if Death would have kept squeezing for a second longer, Bruce's entire skull would have collapsed, but for now, he gets away with just a few cracks, NBD. Bruce obviously wants to get back to work, despite Alfred telling him to rest, but soon finds out that he's handcuffed by the foot to the bed.
Gordon emerges, and tells Bruce that they need to talk about Dr. Death going after Wayne Enterprises employees. Bruce wants to talk about something else, specifically that day Gordon was playing truant officer. On the ride back to the station, Bruce remembers Gordon and his partner Dan Corrigan stopping periodically on the way back, as Corrigan would go in to various businesses and what not. Young Bruce asked Gordon what he was doing, and Gordon simply tells him that this is their beat, and they're making sure everything is safe. Young naive Bruce thinks this is nobel, and actually wanted to get the police a gift for being so good, but Corrigan comes out of a cleaner with a couple of trench coats, which Bruce first thought were gifts... But later found out was payoffs and gifts.
So back to the present, Bruce breaks free, and tries to get away from Gordon who attempts to stop. Bruce disarms him, all while telling him he remembers that day perfectly, especially the night that followed in the alley, with the gun pointed directly at him, which he recreates for Gordon. Bruce tells Gordon to arrest him if he wants, but he's never going to trust him, believing him to be as crooked as any other cop. As Bruce leaves, a cop comes up to Gordon with an envelope that has a question mark on it, and after reading it, all Gordon can say is "Oh, no."
Later that night, Bruce goes to the Wayne Tech weather facility, the last place Dr. Death's former associates work (because the rest are mostly dead) in hopes that he can save them, but as soon as he shows up, he finds out that all the scientists have already been injected. Oh, also, the cops show up as well, and Loeb wastes no time opening fire on the Batman.
#26 does what Zero Year does best, and revisits familiar situations with unfamiliar twists. Gordon has some secret about Crime Alley! DO TELL! This arc has done a great job of just keeping everyone on their toes and guessing, which is what a good comic should do. Usually, I could make some cynical prediction based on past tropes of how comic stories usually go... Zero Year? Not so much. Any given issue, I have no idea what to expect, sure I'll be familiar with the general set up, because I'm a fucking Batman fan, but everything is just that much more different and surprising. Snyder continues to play with the continuity, keeping broad strokes, but twisting things here and there, and it works. It's like walking a tightrope, we've seen people do it before, but how many times have tightrope walkers juggled chainsaws at the same time? And most importantly, no one is fucking up bad and falling off the tightrope into the net-less realm of ruining Batman forever.
Also, obligatory mention that Capullo, Miki and FCO are amongst, if not, the best active creative teams in the business.
I kind of feel a bit cheated here though. Dr. Death was surprising and all that... but what happened to the Riddler? That's just in the back of my mind, because I feel like that's probably going to end up being bigger than Dr. Death... plus, would somebody just write the Riddler in a full story already?!
The Bottom Line:
I mean, what can I say that I didn't already? Zero Year is a great story, and hold surprises around every corner. In fact, it being that surprising might be it's only fault, because if you're really looking forward to something that you think is coming, like the Riddler, you're probably going to be disappointed that the only riddle is: Where's the Riddler? It seems silly to complain about a book being unpredictable, and to be honest, I'm not really complaining, because predictability runs wild in modern comics. At this point, it's my fault for having expectations, knowing full well that Zero Year will blow them out of the water, and that's truly what this story does best... Still want some more Riddler, though.