Welcome to the next installment of Character Studies!
For the first month of the year, I gave our wonderful senior editors the go for who I cover for this article. The astounding Matt Santori chose Renee Montoya, and, to be completely frank, I could not hold back my enthusiasm. So far, I haven’t covered a character of color, let alone someone with an intersecting non-heterosexual orientation. I am more than happy to give my spin on our bad-ass detective and how she contributes to a healthy narrative for marginalized people.
My first introduction to Montoya was in the pages of 52. I got into comics around the time Infinite Crisis was going on, and by the time it ended, I was a much more avid fan. I loved 52’s perspective on the DCU during the “One Year Later” branding, and I especially loved that characters like Montoya got shine while Supes, Bats, and DubDub were off pursuing other goals. While I may have come into the game rather late, Montoya first showed up in Batman #475 alongside Commissioner Gordon as his assistant, eventually partnered with Harvey Bullock and later Crispus Allen. As I did research on my favorite Question, I realized that Renee’s publication history was far more extensive than I knew.
Renee was around for the earth shattering Cataclysm and its fall-out, No Man’s Land, confronting the advances of an unstable Two-Face. She was also one of the featured characters of Gotham Central, a series focusing on Gotham’s finest, confronting being outed by Two-Face and not once, but twice, aiming the barrel of a gun at criminals only to step back from the ledge. After her run in with some of Gotham’s and irreverent criminals, Renee is trying to find herself at the bottom of a bottle after leaving her job and losing her girlfriend. The Question shows up to take her on an adventure through the undercurrent of the DCU, eventually passing the mantle to her. As the Question, Renee has adventures with Batwoman, Huntress, and other heroes across the events of Final Crisis, Blackest Night, and Convergence. While she has been largely absent from the New 52, she finally shows up in Detective Comics this past June.
Even though I consider Montoya to be criminally underused, trying to condense her history was rather difficult. Even though my familiarity with her is less than a decade, she strikes me as a character worth highlighting in the DCU. Similar to my examinations of Carol Danvers and Jessica Jones, Renee is someone who finds redemption despite loss and who also fights a battle with the bottle. Her journey with the Question in the pages of 52 seemed wrought with defensiveness and anger, which completely makes sense. Still, Montoya is a stellar primary character in 52, and that series is a great start if you want to dive into her as a character.
For this installment of Character Studies, I’m going to forego a diagnosis and instead focus on what I find most powerful about Montoya: her identities.
One of the most powerful aspects of Montoya’s presence is her intersectional identity as a Latina lesbian. Here, we see the axes of womanhood, race, and sexual orientation coalesce. After Two-Face outs her within her arc in Gotham Central, we get to explore the trauma of having our identities laid bare to the world without our consent. From here, things seem to spiral for Montoya, as her relationship eventually dissolves and she takes up drinking. Montoya deals with her personal trauma in very real ways and in a manner which I feel better humanizes women of color, lesbians, and queer women, and people who fit the intersection of these identities. Montoya gives a face, sometimes not quite so literally, to the experiences of queer women of color and the difficulty they face navigating careers.
What I enjoy about Montoya is that she faces challenges head on, but has also felt the sting of existential disappointment. Her journey to becoming the question wasn’t easy and happened to be filled with dark nights and less than savory characters. Yet, despite her past trauma and setbacks, she found a way to come back as someone she was proud of, carrying on the Question’s legacy. She also forged important relationships with other women in the DCU, further cementing her importance as a character.
When we look at things like trauma, substance use, survival, and coping with life’s curveballs, we need to see a diverse range of people. White cis-hetero men and women dealing with these issues helps to some extent, but we must also recognize that the same struggles in different identities have a differential impact. This reason is why I strongly advocate for the importance of Renee Montoya. She asserts herself despite her circumstances and manages to turn her pain and trauma into something positive for other people. In those moments where she succumbs to her humanity, she is still a great avatar for examining how we as people, but also people who are women, Latina, queer, or any combination of these, cope with difficult events that fall into our laps.
Also, when bringing up intersectionality, we cannot only focus on these identities alone, but also how systems of oppression are likely to fall on Montoya’s shoulders. As a woman, Two-Face treated her as a commodity, then eventually using her identities against her. After he outed her, she faced significant turmoil with her family. While I’m not Latina or a lesbian, I am definitely familiar with navigating systems of oppression as a Black gay man. For Montoya, she faced the reality of being disowned by her religious family, a struggle many queer people of color face. Cis-hetero men also see fit to police women’s identities and actions, especially when they are attracted to them. While tragic, Two-Face’s actions toward Montoya are not uncommon, and many men see fit to do what they can to ‘correct’ queer women so they can have them, often to violent and aggressive means.
Using Montoya as an avatar of healing could be transformative for many people, particularly Latina and other queer women of color. Sometimes facing trauma through the pages of a comic book can create enough distance to allow people to cope. Then considering Montoya’s transformation into the question, and just general bad-assery throughout her comics run, she becomes a symbol of power, growth, and healing. Montoya has some really astounding qualities, especially considering she’s reached the precipice of murder only to turn back on more than one occasion. The good, the bad, and the in-between highlight the power of Montoya as a character and why I’ve enjoyed reading stories with her.
I have barely scratched the surface of how awesome Montoya is, and writing this makes me want to extensively work through her history. She is powerful, determined, and capable of creating healing for herself even at her lowest. I highly encourage you to check out Gotham Central, which features significant stories about her, and 52, which kept her in the spotlight at DC for over a year.
What do you like about Renee Montoya? How has she helped you as a character? Who are some other Latina queer women in comics? Be sure to let me know at @80Grey on Twitter!