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A History of Renee Montoya – Part I: Secret Origins

Montoya in Batman: The New Animated Adventures

Renee Montoya first debuted to the masses in 1992, as a recurring character on the acclaimed cartoon Batman: The Animated Series. Renee’s path to television started with an idea from writer Mitch Brian during the creation of the show’s writer’s bible. Once the idea was there, the character started to develop, according to Brian: “I always feel like she was my one truly original addition to the show. I ran the idea of a Latina uniform cop by Bruce, who liked the notion. I always liked the last name Montoya (probably because of the old TV show High Chaparral) and Bruce and I tossed around first names – I think he said Renee – and it stuck.”

B:TAS Model Sheet

The idea of a Latina character wasn’t a political correctness mandate from the network, but a logical extension of the show’s themes, says Brian: “It wasn’t a demographic thing. It just seemed logical. We wanted a uniform cop because the concept of the show was that it was a crime show with a fantastic element; very much what The Batman started out as. ‘On Leather Wings’ was written as the pilot to stress the cops vs Batman / Batman as vigilante aspect. It was like making a 40s crime film – but modernized – and that means, for sure, we’ll need female police officers. The idea of an Hispanic character felt modern, urban – so in that sense we got our uniform cop and female character in one package. The more female characters the better, because we wanted more than just damsels in distress. Harley Quinn was another great female character who has become iconic.”

With her name and role as a Gotham City police officer established, series producer Bruce Timm developed a visual look for Renee. According to Brian, it took no time at all for the character to come to life from Timm’s pen: “I think he had sketches of her within hours of talking about her. He may have drawn her right there. He’s amazing that way.”

B:TAS Model Sheet

A look at initial work on the character (found, along with the writer’s bible selection below, at the treasure trove of a site called World’s Finest) shows that Timm designed Renee as more masculine than other female characters on Batman: The Animated Series. The loose jacket and wide slacks of her police uniform, combined with the short boyish haircut that she appears with in early model sheets makes her seem almost gender-neutral. Though the final design for the character cinched the uniform at the waist to more clearly accentuate her femininity, she still has more of a broad-shouldered self-assuredness than many of the show’s other female characters.

Much of the writers’ original intentions for the character never made it to the screen or the comics: the original writer’s bible description of Renee describes her as a cynical widow with an affinity for children. But other details defined in this initial depiction of the character have carried through to the present — her strong ties to Catholicism and the working class, her dry sense of humor, and her uneasy relationship with the Batman:

Like Bruce Wayne, Renee Montoya lost someone near her to Gotham’s criminal element. Her husband, also a poilce officer, was killed two years ago in the line of duty. She has continued on as a “legitimate” crime fighter. She grew up in Gotham’s Crime Alley and saw, first hand, what criminal lifestyles did to people. Young, tough and cynical, with a dry sense of humor, she holds a grudging respect for the Batman, but has mixed emotions about his vigilantism. Nevertheless, they often find themselves thrown together as allies, and Batman’s knowledge of her past causes him to be particularly fond of her.

She hates Bruce Wayne and everything he stands for. Inclined to spend off-duty time in volunteer work for St. Joan’s Catholic Church, she believes that Wayne is selfish and deaf to the cries of Gotham’s poor. She wishes she had kids and has a real soft spot for them, as well as a strong dedication to her family.

Despite her cynical facade, she has idealistically sworn herself to work within the confines of the law, and unfortunately finds herself at odds with Batman’s methods. She secretly dreads the day that she might be faced with the task of having to arrest the Batman.

An unnamed Renee made her first appearance in “Pretty Poison,” September 14, 1992, but her true debut came on September 18th, in the episode titled “P.O.V.” In the episode, Renee faces interrogation from internal affairs on the subject of a sting operation gone wrong. Her testimony differs from that of her fellow officers — future partner Harvey Bullock and a rookie named Wilkes — and, as none of them seem to be able to present the truth, the investigator strips them of their badges. Renee finds redemption while following clues on her own, finding the gangsters the sting operation failed to net, and encountering the mysterious Batman. Montoya was voiced in the episode by actress Ingrid Oliu.

“‘P.O.V.’ was one of the initial springboard ideas we had when we were coming up with episode ideas way before anything went into production,” Brian said. “We wanted to do a “Rashomon” story building on the myth of The Batman.”

Courtesy of Time Warner-owned AOL Video, enjoy Renee Montoya’s debut in “P.O.V.”:

The decision to give Renee the spotlight in “P.O.V.” was an easy one, says Brian: “She’s the most deserving: the perfect combination of youth, power and experience. The other two are extremes. Wilkes is a rookie, Bullock’s a thug – neither really have what it takes. She’s the balance point compared to them.”

Montoya appeared in ten more episodes of Batman: The Animated Series:

  • “Vendetta” – October 5, 1992 – voiced by Ingrid Oliu
  • “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” – October 29, 1992 – voiced by Ingrid Oliu
  • “Cat Scratch Fever” – November 5, 1992 – voiced by Ingrid Oliu
  • “Harley and Ivy” – January 18, 1993 – voiced by Ingrid Oliu
  • “The Man Who Killed Batman” – February 1, 1993 – voiced by Ingrid Oliu
  • “Trial” – May 16, 1994 – voiced by Liane Schirmer
  • “Make ‘Em Laugh” – November 5, 1994 – voiced by Liane Schirmer
  • “Catwalk” – September 13, 1995 – voiced by Liane Schirmer
  • “A Bullet for Bullock” – September 14, 1995 – voiced by Liane Schirmer
  • “Batgirl Returns” – November 12, 1994 – voiced by Liane Schirmer

When the contract for Batman: The Animated Series ran out at Fox, Bruce Timm and company revamped the show for the New Batman/Superman Adventures, redesigning some characters, and adding a new Robin in Tim Drake. One of the characters receiving a redesign was Renee, though there was a reason — she’d been promoted to detective.

Redesigned Renee from The New Batman Adventures

Renee appeared in two episodes of The New Batman Adventures, “Holiday Knights,” which featured a series of vignettes about Gotham City at Christmas — one showing Bullock and Montoya on a stakeout at a local shopping mall dressed as Santa and his elf, respectively, and “Over the Edge,” a literal nightmare of a story where the GCPD storm the Batcave and Batgirl dies. Liane Schirmer provided the voice of Renee in both episodes.

Montoya in Gotham Girls Flash Cartoon

Renee also had a role in the Shockwave / Macromedia /Adobe Flash cartoon series on the Warner Bros. website called Gotham Girls. Renee debuts in the third season of the series, taking part in a whodunit that led to the debut of Batman / Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero. The finale saw a broken-wristed Montoya fighting alongside Batgirl to save the life of Commissioner Jim Gordon. Renee’s voice in the series was provided by Adrienne Barbeau, who had also voiced Catwoman for Batman: The Animated Series.

Season three of Gotham Girls is still available on the Warner Bros. website.

Batman: Chaos in GothamBatman: Chaos in Gotham

Though Renee didn’t appear in any of the games that viewers could play as Gotham Girls loaded, she did make a cameo appearance in two screens of the Game Boy Advance game Batman: Chaos in Gotham.

Montoya also appeared in comics that were based on the animated series over the years. Many of these stories were comic versions of episodes, others featured Montoya working in supporting roles as a member of the GCPD. One notable exception, where Renee carried the spotlight, came in the mini-series Gotham Girls.

Art by Shane Glines

Writer Paul Storrie says that the Gotham Girls mini-series came indirectly as a result of the Flash series: “I was a fan of the web ‘toons, but came to them a bit late. Basically, I’d been using an old, slow computer when they first started appearing, so I only watched a couple. When I finally upgraded my machine, I checked out all the available episodes and really enjoyed them. At that time, I’d already done a couple projects for DC’s “Animated Series” titles (Batman Beyond and Justice League Adventures). It hit me, as I watched the Gotham Girls webisodes, that they’d be an excellent inspiration for a comic book series. What’s more, I was hoping that the series might find a wider audience by being based on a successful web ‘toon. So I wrote my Batman Beyond editor and pitched him the idea for the mini-series. He liked it, but was no longer editing the Batman Animated. He referred me to Joan Hilty, who had taken on that task. Joan thought the idea had merit and, after a bit of back and forth, I got the green light.”

Storrie was already a fan of the Montoya character, having first heard of her in an interview with Paul Dini and Bruce Timm about the animated series: “I remember reading an interview with, I believe, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, about this Latina cop who was going to be partnered with Harvey Bullock and the description they gave just made her sound like an interesting character with lots of potential…When I started to look at doing the series about the ladies of Gotham City, I thought Renee deserved some time in the spotlight and it would be great to add in the perspective of a regular cop on the strange events that can take place in Gotham.”

In issue #4, “I Carry A Badge!,” we learn a little of the animated Montoya’s background — her parents were not happy that she decided to become a cop, thinking that prejudices against Latinos would lead to unhappiness. But Montoya stresses, in a conversation with Batgirl, that she chose to be a police officer to help change the system from the inside. Working together, Montoya and Batgirl try to take down the trio of Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy and Catwoman and recover a mysterious vial of chemicals.

Storrie holds the Montoya spotlight story in high regard: “Originally, my plan was to do a 4-issue mini, where each of the villains (Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn) and then Batgirl each had their own issue. Renee would be appearing throughout, but wouldn’t be featured in any particular issue. Then DC asked if I could expand the series to five issues and I was tremendously pleased with the opportunity to give Renee her own time to shine. Truth to tell, issue four is my favorite of the series. Not just because Renee is a great character, but because I’ve always been a fan of hardboiled private detective novels and it gave me a chance to dip my toes in those waters, using the first person narration from a tough as nails protagonist.”

Storrie still follows the character today, in her appearances in the mainstream DC Universe, and feels that the evolution of her character is consistent with her animated roots: “Renee has been written by a number of terrific writers who have done an excellent job of portraying her as a tough, smart, dedicated woman, with plenty of nuances to her personality. That’s the kind of rich character that’s a pleasure to write oneself. Although, as a Vic Sage fan, I was disappointed to see him die and pass on the mantle of The Question, Renee is probably the best character in the entire DCU to take up that mantle. As a good police detective, she is obviously devoted to the quest for answers. Maybe not in the same way that Vic Sage was, but then no one really follows the same path to the truth as anyone else.”

And over 15 years after helping co-create the character, Mitch Brian still keeps up with Renee today: “I think the issues of gender and sexuality that she’s brought to the fore are nothing short of thrilling. It’s one more way that comics can deal with serious, adult themes and make for deeper drama. And I’m all for strong female characters. As I mentioned, it’s like watching your daughter grow up. I started her out but she has had to find her own path. I’m proud of her and support her unconditionally.”

Tomorrow: Montoya makes the transition into the DCU!

Mitch Brian recently contributed to The Book of Lists: Horror, which will be released in September by Harper Collins. His monthly show on film genres can be heard on line or via podcast at http://www.kcur.org/uptodate.

Paul Storrie recently wrote an issue of Moonstone Books’ Twilight Crusade, called “Gabriel,” with art from Walter Figueroa and Chad Hunt that explores a perspective on the War between Heaven and Hell by the old soldier / angel of destruction Gabriel, who has grown weary of her role. His work can also be seen in recently published trade paperbacks Star Trek: Alien Spotlight, and Justice League Unlimited: Ties that Bind; and the forthcoming Worlds of Dungeons and Dragons #7 from Devil’s Due and William Tell: One Against the Empire from Lerner Books.

2 Responses to “A History of Renee Montoya – Part I: Secret Origins”

  1. The Question | Vic Sage | Renee Montoya » news » Renee Montoya Week says:

    […] A History of Renee Montoya – Part I: Secret Origins […]

  2. Dan says:

    I thought Renee was co-created by Mitch Brian and Paul Dini?

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