Superhero Makeovers: Renee Montoya
As the Question, Renee Montoya isn’t a character who has seen a lot of costume changes, but she has gone through a lot of other developments over her time in comics. To date, she has spent more time as a police officer than a superhero, beginning as a supporting character and working her way up. This long development has also left her as one of the more interesting characters in DC Comics.
Born in the Animated Series:
Renee is one of a handful of characters who didn’t get her debut in comic books but rather showed up as a supporting character in Batman: the Animated Series. That excellent animated series also served as the introduction of several other key bits of modern Batman lore, such as Harley Quinn and the more tragic origin of Mr. Freeze. When first introduces, Renee was a police officer partnered with Harvey Bullock. She played the competent good cop to Harvey’s slovenly and occasionally inept bad cop.
As a supporting character in the animated series, there isn’t a lot that really stood out about Renee. Her personality didn’t get explored too much, and the background pieces listed in her character bible, such as being a volunteer at the local church, never made it to screen. She was a competent Gotham cop, though, which is pretty unusual in and of itself. Perhaps because of her banter with Harvey or the fact that she was the only really good cop on the force aside from Commissioner Gordon, she became popular enough to land in comics, debuting in Batman #475. At first, she filled pretty much the same role in the comics that she did in the TV show – she was an actual honest cop in Gotham, partnered up with Harvey Bullock and serving as a buy-the-book officer to Harvey’s more freelancing ways. Then we hit No Man’s Land, and things changed.
Entry into No Man’s Land:
No Man’s Land has one of the dumbest setups to a comic book story ever, but makes up for it by telling some really great stories after that. Following a major earthquake, the United States decides to just let Gotham City go, destroying exits out of the city and declaring it no part of the country. For comparison’s sake, that would be like the government saying that New Orleans was no longer part of America following Hurricane Katrina. The idea that such a thing would happen strains the suspension of disbelief, but if you are willing to overlook that problem, No Man’s Land tells some pretty good stories. It describes a Gotham City where the criminals really run the place, where Batman is outgunned and forced to take extreme action, and where Commissioner Gordon has to try to reclaim the place by fighting a war against the gangs of Gotham. The extreme situation gave Renee a chance to really shine, even if it was initially as a damsel in distress.
Renee was one of the police officers who stayed behind and tried to help Gordon reclaim Gotham City. In the process, she winds up making contact with Two-Face, who fell in love with her – a love that, unfortunately for Two-Face, was doomed to be forever unrequited due to a revelation that I will get into below. Initially taken hostage by Two-Face, Renee managed to reach out to the Harvey Dent side of his personality. This proves to be useful at a crucial point when Two-Face betrays Gordon and puts him on trial for war crimes. Thanks to Renee’s influence, Two-Face agrees to give Gordon a defense attorney – Harvey Dent. What follows is one of the better moments that Batman comics has seen:
Although No Man’s Land didn’t feature a makeover per se, it was a huge moment for Renee as a character, really giving her a chance to shine against one of Gotham’s worst criminals.
Out of the Closet:
The reason I’m writing this right now is because I’ve been reading Gotham Central, which is a magnificent little series written by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka – the latter of which, if you remember from my rant about Wonder Woman, I have a huge man-crush on. While this series included Batman here and there, it was really about the cops of Gotham and how they deal with the messed-up city they live in when the Batman isn’t around to save the day. Renee features prominently here, partnered up with Crispus Allen after Harvey Bullock got thrown off the force. (Allen, incidentally, might one day get a rant of his own here, since he eventually became the Spectre.) And, unfortunately, this series sent Renee’s life on a downward spiral.
Renee’s sexuality hadn’t really been explored yet. Even though her character bible in Batman: the Animated Series listed her as a widow, that item never came up in the cartoon and was never mentioned in the comics, either. Instead, Gotham Central revealed that Renee is a lesbian. She had kept her sexuality under wraps not only because of discrimination in the police force but also because her parents were extremely conservative religious types. But when a rapist with a grudge tries to ruin Renee’s life, a private eye takes pictures of her making out with a woman named Daria and sends those pictures to the precinct and Renee’s family. But Renee didn’t have much time to worry about that – pretty soon, she was jailed for murder.
Framed for the killing of the rapist who had been harassing her, Renee wound up involuntarily escaping from jail when Two-Face arranged her breakout. Poor, messed up Two-Face had found out that the woman he loved was a lesbian and took it about as well as you might expect a dangerous psychotic with a multiple personality disorder to. The whole thing culminated in a fight between Renee and Two-Face, with Batman coming to stop Renee from killing Harvey. Once it was revealed that Renee had been framed, she was reinstated – but still outed as a lesbian and disowned by her parents. And that was only the start of her fall.
The War Games storyline brought Renee’s personal collapse to completion. When her partner Crispus is framed by a crooked investigator named Jim Corrigan (no, not the Jim Corrigan who became the Spectre that Crispus would soon become – man, comics are confusing sometimes), Renee became obsessed with exposing the dirty cop. Even after Crispus’ name was cleared, Renee kept going. That obsession wound up eventually bringing Corrigan to justice, but only after he had killed Crispus.
So what do you do when you’re a Gotham cop whose actions just got your partner killed and whose personal life is in the toilet? Quit the force and become a drunk, of course. But if you’re really lucky (and living in the DC Universe), you can also become a superhero.
Asking the Question:
By the time DC finished up the events of Infinite Crisis and started the weekly series known as 52, Renee had become a drunk who had lost both her job and her girlfriend. Fortunately for her, she became the perfect reclamation project for Vic Sage, aka the Question, who was looking for a little help, both with an investigation of a new gang that was trying to take over Gotham while Batman was out of town for a year and with finding a protégé who could help give his own life some meaning.
52 is an amazing comic series that features not only Renee’s redemption but several other good superhero tales. In it we discover that Renee has become suicidal in her depression, doing such insanely stupid things as deliberately pissing off the superpowered occasional villain Black Adam. There are also a lot of good character moments between she and Vic as they develop a friendship – and some moments that are painful in hindsight. For example, we get a scene of Vic telling Renee that she should quit smoking, only to have Renee blow a puff of smoke into Vic’s face. Later on, it turns out that Vic is dying of lung cancer. Surprise, Renee! Now you’re a terrible person!
Through her year-long friendship with Vic, Renee managed to find herself and gain a measure of redemption. She becomes a hero again, fighting alongside Batwoman (who happened to be one of Renee’s old girlfriends to boot) and protecting Gotham in Batman’s absence. Her character transformed over the course of the series and she began taking on some of Vic’s mannerisms, such as meditation as a way to focus her mind.
Ultimately, that friendship reached its end in the snow of the Himalayas, where Vic Sage finally lost his battle with cancer. The death is one of the saddest moments I’ve ever read in a comic, but it also led to Renee’s one real superhero makeover. That is to say, it led her to become a superhero herself.
The New Question:
Now with a new purpose in life, Renee underwent a real transformation. No longer just that cop who sometimes appeared in Batman comics, she became the new Question. Sadly, the Question has never been a terribly popular superhero (despite being awesome), and so she only got miniseries and backup stories. Those stories were still great, though, thanks in large part to many of them being penned by Greg Rucka, who was also responsible for most of Renee’s character progression over the past decade.
As the Question, Renee was sort of a fusion between her personality and Vic’s, retaining the street smarts she had displayed over her years as a Gotham cop but also having the sort of cockiness that comes from being at peace with oneself. She did have her moments to shine as well, including playing a part in Final Crisis. After Darkseid had gained the Anti-Life Equation and used it to mind control most people in the world, Renee showed that, as she was in complete control of her own mind, she was immune to the Equation. She also played a key role in recruiting superheroes that eventually took out Darkseid, saving the universe.
Renee Montoya Today:
Well, I admit that I haven’t been following the DC Universe’s “New 52” reboot too closely, but here’s what I managed to find out about Renee so far:
Um…yeah. Turns out that she hasn’t had a lot of action in the new DC Universe. Her image appeared when Batwoman was talking about Batman, Incorporated, but that might have been a mistake by the artist. She also might be dead, based on some vague words spoken by Batman. If that’s the case, then DC really dropped the ball. They go around talking about diversity and organic characters in their comics and then shuffle one of their most interested and well-developed characters under the rug. I guess I’ll reserve judgment until it’s stated definitively, but here’s hoping that Renee Montoya is alive and well in the New 52. (And for that matter, I hope that her history with Vic Sage remains intact, because why introduce the character if you’re going to undo the most pivotal moments of her life? Damn DC…and get off my lawn, kids.)
Anyway, that’s a quick look at Renee Montoya, the new Question. She didn’t have a lot of costume changes or physical makeovers due to her only recently becoming a superhero, but she’s had an interesting journey overall, going from a supporting character in a cartoon show to one of the more compelling heroines in mainstream comics.