Out of the primary cast of the upcoming Birds of Prey, Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya is arguably the least well-known. While the likes of Huntress and Black Canary have all seen recent incarnations on the small screen, and the immensely popular Harley Quinn has basically turned into the DC Comics mascot, Renee Montoya is comparatively unknown among general audiences despite her comic book prominence. So who is Renee Montoya? Well, that’s quite a… question!
Comic book history
Much like Harley Quinn, Renee Montoya didn’t actually start out in comics. The character was created by Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Mitch Brian for Batman: The Animated Series. However, in a weird twist, she made her comic book debut in 1992’s Batman #475 before her debut episode on Batman: TAS actually aired. In both formats though, Montoya’s story was the same: She was the young new partner of Harvey Bullock, the slovenly Gotham City PD detective who often worked with Gotham. In this role, she would be a recurring minor character in several major Batman stories, with her being notable for her distrust of the Dark Knight and all other costumed vigilantes.
Montoya would eventually work her up the ranks both with fans and in terms of narrative as she became a lead character in the brilliant Gotham Central series, which detailed the lives of the police operating in Batman’s shadow (This is where writer Greg Rucka would first use the character, and he would continue to write her for the next decade across many titles). Here she was partnered up with the veteran Detective Crispus Allen.
During the Cataclysm and No Man’s Land crossover events in which Gotham was destroyed by an Earthquake and then quarantined, Montoya would befriend the criminal Two-Face by appealing to and connecting with his kind Harvey Dent identity. Two-Face mistook her friendly interest for romance and fell in love with her. Once he discovered that love to be unrequited, the villain began to make Montoya’s existence hell through the twisted logic that she would come to him if he took away everything else in her life. Two-Face would frame her for murder and get her arrested, before kidnapping her to make it look like she escaped custody. Eventually, Montoya was able to overcome Two-Face (Batman’s timely intervention stopping her from killing him) and put him away after proving her innocence, but not before the villain outed her as a lesbian to the public. Montoya had kept her sexuality a secret from her deeply religious family who disowned her when they found out.
In a very angry place, Montoya would throw herself into her police work with Allen. A case involving a corrupt Crime Scene Investigator who stole evidence that led to Allen being falsely incriminated would escalate this anger. This reached boiling point when the CSI, Jim Corrigan, shot and killed Allen to stop their investigation into him. Even though Montoya and the rest of the GCPD knew Corrigan was responsible, they couldn’t prove it due to him getting a fake alibi from his girlfriend.
When Corrigan walked free, Montoya took it upon herself to bring him to justice. With her rage boiling over, she tracked down Corrigan and his girlfriend. Confronting the pair, she beat the girlfriend unconscious before pulling a gun on him, fully intending to kill Corrigan in cold blood. However, she couldn’t go through with it when he begged for his life. Disheartened and troubled, Montoya walked away, quitting the GCPD.
Montoya would show up again in the year-long weekly comic book 52, which detailed the year in which Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman went missing in the DC Comics universe. Driven to violent alcoholism by her troubles, Montoya was tracked down by The Question aka Vic Sage, the ”faceless” vigilante famed for his detective skills. Sage hired Montoya to help him with an investigation involving strange alien weapons, an emerging cult practising a religion of crime dating back to biblical times, and the superhero Batwoman. Batwoman’s secret identity was actually that of socialite Kate Kane, who had been Montoya’s secret ex-lover from many years before.
Throughout the lengthy and twisty case, Montoya would struggle with her anger issues and overcoming her alcoholism. Sage would try to help her deal with these problems and eventually took her to the mystical Nanda Parbat to train with Richard Dragon, the legendary martial artist who had once helped Sage master his emotions. It’s here that Montoya learned that Sage was actually dying of lung cancer and had been prepping her all along to be his successor as The Question. After training with Dragon, Montoya and Sage had to return to Gotham to save Kate Kane, after which Sage’s condition deteriorated rapidly. Montoya tried to get him back to Nanda Parbat for healing but Sage passed on along the away, content to answer the final question of death.
Montoya would thus take up the identity of The Question from that point on, to answer the questions nobody else would answer. Through various cases involving everything from global crime networks to being the prophesied “Faceless One” for the religion of crime to even tangling with The Spectre (God’s wrath manifest) and other mystical forces, Montoya worked extensively with various DC Comics heroes. She would frequently team up with the Birds of Prey, though always insisting that she was not a member of the team herself.
Following the New 52 reboot of the DC universe in 2011, Montoya was completely absent from the comic book line, an omission which prompted fan outcry given how she had become an icon for comic book diversity, being both lesbian and a woman of colour (she is the daughter of immigrants from the Dominican Republic). And with the DC Rebirth reboot in 2016, Renee Montoya was returned to the pages of Detective Comics, once again back to being a GCPD detective, while also eventually adopting the identity of The Question again to help Lois Lane uncover an investigation. In this new version, she and Kate Kane also rebuilt their relationship and became a couple once more.
Appearances in other media
Renee Montoya appeared in animated form in both Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures. She was also played on the first season of TV series Gotham by actress Victoria Cartagena in which she was a GCPD detective partnered up with Crispus Allen, and was also in a short-lived lesbian relationship with a young Jim Gordon’s wife. In Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight, the character of Anna Ramirez was clearly modelled on Montoya, though the name was changed given Ramirez’s unheroic character twist later on.
Powers and abilities
- The Question costume – Vic Sage’s old mask, fedora, and trenchcoat are treated to react to a unique substance called binary gas which Montoya releases from a secret compartment in her belt. Once exposed to the gas, the clothing changes to a non-descript colour to help her blend into the shadows, while the “pseudoderm” mask becomes featureless and fits seamlessly to her face to obscure her identity
- Energy pistol – Montoya makes use of an advanced alien firearm discovered during her first case with Vic Sage
- Combat and parkour – Montoya is highly trained in Dragon Style Kung Fu, Aikido, Judo, and Boxing, as well as mastering the art of parkour, studying under Richard Dragon and Vic Sage
- Detective skills – Montoya is a decorated detective and for good measure as her keen intelligence and ability to solve puzzles even allowed her to figure out Batman’s real identity
Recommended reading and viewing
- Batman #475 by Alan Grant, Norm Breyfogle
- Gotham Central by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Michael Lark
- Batman: Cataclysm crossover
- Batman: No Man’s Land crossover
- 52 by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid
- One Year Later crossover
- Final Crisis by Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones
- Batwoman: Detective Comics by Greg Rucka, J.H. Williams III
- Batman Inc. by Grant Morrison
- Detective Comics by James Tynion IV
- Lois Lane by Greg Rucka, Mike Perkins
Rosie Perez’s Renee Montoya will be kicking butt alongside Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress, and Jurnee Smollet-Bell’s Black Canary in Birds of Prey, in cinemas this coming Friday, 7 February 2020.
Last Updated: February 5, 2020