A History of Renee Montoya – Part II: From Screen to Page
Though she was created for the animated television series, Renee Montoya made her actual debut in comic form. She made her first appearance as a police sergeant assistant to Commissioner Jim Gordon in Batman #475, dated May 1992 — four months before the Batman episode “P.O.V.” aired.
Alan Grant, who wrote the issue in which Montoya first appeared, says that the character was introduced to comics during a bi-annual Bat Summit session: “We used to meet up in upstate NY every 4 or 6 months, to plan out future stories and check notes on how what we’d already done was received. I vaguely remember Renee’s name being raised but I swear I can’t remember by whom.”
Chuck Dixon, who later went on to flesh out the character during her years as a Gotham City police detective, fills in some of the blanks: “We were shown model sheets and given a brief synopsis of her character. We were told that we should start using her since she’d be established in the animated series. I was one of the earliest writers of the three regulars to begin inserting her into stories. By the next summit I had promoted her to detective and made her Harvey [Bullock]’s frequent partner.”
Montoya’s first panels, drawn by Norm Breyfogle in Batman #475, show her drawing down on the Batman as he bursts through the window of Gordon’s office. Gordon is able to stop her from firing on what has to be the scariest looking Batman that Breyfogle has ever drawn, and introduces her to the vigilante as, “My new assistant, Rene Montoya.”
By October’s Detective Comics #651, Dixon has indeed promoted Montoya to detective in the Major Crimes Unit of the Gotham City Police Department, featuring her for the first time as Bullock’s partner in the one-shot “A Bullet For Bullock,” which later was turned into an episode of Batman the Animated Series. This appearance marks a trend for the character: Montoya’s appearances over the next few years are mostly supporting roles written by Dixon, many of them featuring her teaming with Bullock. Dixon calls Montoya the, “Perfect character to contrast with Harvey Bullock. She was his better half. Compassionate and reasoned and calm.”
The Bat-books in 1993 began the infamous Knightfall storyline, and Montoya appears regularly in the series. In Batman #493, the second part of Knightfall, she trades positions with a hostage of Mister Zsasz, and in a moment of weakness on the part of the Batman, is able to free herself from the self-mutilating villain by means of a reverse head-butt. In subsequent issues, she’s helping tracking down the Firefly, the Riddler, the Scarecrow, and is first on the scene when Bane throws Batman from a Gotham City rooftop, breaking his back.
As Knightfall segued into Knightquest, Montoya found herself in an issue-long spotlight for the first time in Detective Comics #670, chasing a confused Mister Freeze through the darkened hallways of a medical facility, then turning her police revolver on the Jean-Paul Valley Batman to keep him from killing the frozen villain. Throughout this period of the Bat-books, Montoya becomes a voice of doubt, feeling like Commissioner Gordon, that the Batman patrolling Gotham is not the one to whom she’s grown accustomed.
Montoya’s role in Knightfall / Knightquest / Knightsend wasn’t limited to only comics. Legendary radio producer Dirk Maggs created a radio version of Knightfall for the BBC in 1994, and cast prolific actress Lorelei King in the role of Montoya. A short clip below finds Montoya taking stock of Arkham Asylum inmates still on the loose in a discussion with Commissioner Gordon (William Roberts) and Harvey Bullock (Eric Meyers).
Montoya’s next major appearance comes during the Troika storyline in which Bullock is knocked comatose by an oil drum. Montoya visits him in the hospital, promises to bring a razor to give him a shave the next day, and lets a few tears fall in spite of herself. While Bullock wakes from his coma and recovers, Montoya finds herself with a temporary new partner — MacKenzie “Hardback” Bock, so nicknamed because of his penchant for reading.
In Batman #687, Montoya finds herself scoring a date with an officer in the Coast Guard, Johnny, while investigating a failed robbery by Captain Fear. Alas, the romance was not meant to be, as less than a year later, Johnny contracted the deadly virus called the Clench during the Contagion crossover in Robin 27 and later succumbs to it in Catwoman 31 (both March 1996). She doesn’t have long to grieve however, as she takes to the streets with Gordon and Bullock to fend off violent mobs in the wake of a city-wide plague.
In August of 1996, Montoya is featured on a cover for the first time since her first appearance four years previous, as part of Chuck Dixon’s four-part mini-series GCPD, which opens with Montoya berating Bullock for crossing the line and beating a perpetrator with a baseball bat, showing both her adherence to the law and her frustration with her partner: “You could have killed this guy, Harv! He’s a lowlife and a headcase but he’d have cost you your badge!” This frustration leads Montoya to request a transfer from MCU, which Lieutenant Sarah Essen denies. She does, however, give Bullock a new partner, Korean Kevin Soong, and re-pairs Montoya with MacKenzie Bock. Montoya and Bock disrupt a kidnapping in progress, saving the wife of a Nicaraguan diplomat from a terrorist group called Cell Six. Lt. Essen believes that constant surveillance of the diplomat’s wife would stretch the department’s budget, and instead proposes a decoy operation with Montoya standing in. Only one problem, says Montoya: “None of Senora Trujillo’s purses are big enough for my gun.”
While Bullock is appearing before an internal affairs review board, defending himself against Montoya’s allegations of brutality (He later leaves a furious message on her machine: “You ratted me out, ‘partner.’ They almost hung me out to dry and it’s on your head, Montoya! Everythin’ we been through and you turn out to be a damn Judas!”), Montoya finds herself first fending off the unwarranted advances of her faux diplomat husband, and then getting captured in an ambush by the terrorist kidnappers. For Montoya’s freedom, they demand that the diplomat Trujillo cancel a planned speech before the United Nations. Trujillo refuses: “Your police sacrifice themselves every day for much lesser purposes. Officer Montoya dies for the cause of liberty.”
Meanwhile, Montoya, wearing a designer ballgown and handcuffed to a bed, refuses to read the terrorists’ statement with the required enthusiasm. They give her the works off-panel, but the leader of Cell Six laments that she did not give in: “She did not cry out. The fools in the capital chose the wrong Trujillo to represent them.” Days without food and water lead to Montoya hallucinating a spectral Bullock, eating doughnuts and admonishing her for not being tough enough. She comes to, dislocates her thumb and pulls out of the handcuffs. While Trujillo gives his speech on television, the leader of Cell Six enters the cell where he expects to find Montoya. What he finds instead is a piece of the metal bed railing impacting against his skull. Montoya grabs his gun and quickly takes care of his terrorist comrades.
Later, Bullock visits Montoya in the hospital. She tells him she was wrong, that Gotham needs more cops willing to cross the line to get the job done. He tells her that she’s wrong: “I don’t want you to become my kind of cop, Renee. I mean, maybe together we make the kind of cop Gotham needs.” By December 1996’s Gordon’s Law #1, also by Dixon, they’re partners again.
The final issue of the mini-series saw Renee featured as a solo character on a cover for the first time. Dixon calls this series the high point of his involvement with the Montoya character: “I have that cover of her, handcuffed to the bed and still kicking ass, on my office wall! That would be her stellar moment to me. Courage in the face of adversity.”
October 1997’s Batman: Secret Files and Origins gave Montoya her first Who’s Who-style entry, alongside other members of the GCPD. Much of the information for all of the officers in the entry seems to be from Dixon’s GCPD mini-series from the year before:
Partnered with Bullock, Montoya’s patience and “by the book” approach to police work have proven to be the perfect counter-point to Bullock’s rule-bending.
During the Bat-book crossover called Cataclysm in early 1998, a powerful earthquake shook Gotham to rubble, right in the middle of Renee’s night off. While Batman spreads himself thin saving lives across the city, Montoya and Bullock work to find the identity of the Quakemaster, who claims responsibility for the quake and promises another unless his ransom demands are met. Eventually, they’re able to rescue Bock from the Quakemaster, a puppet on the hand of the Ventriloquist.
While Gothamites leave the city in droves, Montoya stays on with other members of the GCPD to continue trying to pull the city together. Batman #559 finds her protecting a hospital from rioting drug-seekers, while convincing a doctor not to abandon his post.
Dixon’s last story involving Montoya came in August 1999’s Bullock’s Law. Though published during the No Man’s Land crossover, the story takes place in a pre-Earthquake Gotham. Dixon maintains the importance of featuring the police of Gotham City, saying that they’re an essential part of the Batman mythos: “The police in Gotham are Batman’s closest contact with any kind of legal authority. Sometimes at odds and sometimes allied, the cops need to be fully realized as characters or they’re just anonymous drones; sirens in the night.”
Bullock’s Law finds Harvey Bullock taking tip-offs from the Black Mask in exchange for going easy on a False-Facer in court. Batman suspects that Bullock might be on the take, but when it comes down to it, Bullock refuses to lie, verifying that Montoya did read the False-Facer his rights at the time of arrest. For his troubles, Harvey takes a beating from the Black Mask gang, but keeps the respect of his fellow officers, especially Montoya. Dixon describes Montoya’s relationship with Bullock as, “Tolerance growing to affection. She really began to care about the slob. But she also knew when to distance herself when Harv exceeded his authority to step on someone’s rights. She understood that they were different kinds of cops.”
Batman Chronicles #14 features a story told in the rare illustrated prose form by Greg Rucka, as Montoya relates the reasons why her brother Benny was on leave from the military at the time of the Gotham earthquake, and ponders the roles of those who serve and protect while flipping the coin Two Face left her…at the end of a story that somehow doesn’t get told until two issues later, in Batman Chronicles #16.
In “Two Down,” Rucka’s first comic work for DC, we meet Montoya’s parents and see the Montoya Grocery for the first time, as Renee stops an attempted robbery from a neighborhood thug. While searching for her brother, she finds him with Harvey Dent, a.k.a. the villain Two-Face, who Benny says has been helping them for a week. In an unprecedented bit of circumstance, Dent’s coin keeps coming up heads. Montoya watches, waiting for the wrong flip that she knows will come.
Rucka says he was always fascinated by the character and wanted to use the story to create a better sense of who Renee was: “When I first started writing “Two Down,” I remember asking all these questions about her, and being stunned that nobody had an answer. What about her parents? Family? Siblings? Religion? She was clearly Latina, but that was so broad. From where? Born in Gotham? Things like that. And nobody had answers for me, so I felt I could roll up my sleeves and really build some of that.”
Eventually, the coin leads Dent to take on an axe-wielding group of criminals to protect Montoya’s neighborhood, and she’s forced to use her last bullet — which she’d been saving to defend against Dent’s eventual return to Two-Face — to save Dent’s life. Batman shows up, and in the midst of a tussle between he and Dent, Montoya manages to snare the coin in mid-flip. She convinces Batman to leave Dent in her care: “I have to try. Please Batman. I can reach him.”
This single story would begin narrative threads for Montoya that would not be revealed until Gotham Central, years later. “I finished ‘Two Down,’ and I knew two things,” Rucka said. “The first was that Two-Face/Harvey was going to fall in love with her. And the second was that she was queer. That seemed to me a good, inherent drama to play with, and that’s what fed into the [No Man's Land] stories with her and Two-Face.”
The American government closes off the city, declaring it no longer a part of the United States, and various parties divide up the city into lawless territories. Only one part of Gotham — the Tri-Corner — is under the control of the GCPD, including a crossbow-wielding Montoya. She finds herself serving as a go-between for Jim Gordon and Two-Face, who runs a larger territory in Gotham. When the coin eventually comes up bad, Two-Face reneges on the deal and kidnaps Renee and her family.
During this time, Montoya’s Who’s-Who style entry in No Man’s Land Secret Files and Origins describes her as M.I.A.:
This Gordon loyalist has been conducting a series of secret missions for her mentor. She hasn’t been seen in over a month.
Two-Face keeps Montoya in captivity for five months before kidnapping Jim Gordon in Detective #739 and putting him on trial for crimes after Gotham was closed off. Montoya, called as a witness, thinks quickly on her feet and convinces Harvey Dent to represent Gordon against himself. Dent interrogates himself, clears Gordon and offers himself up for arrest.
No Man’s Land ends with losses for the GCPD — namely Jim Gordon’s wife, Sarah Essen-Gordon. Still dealing with his grief, Gordon promotes Bullock to lieutenant, and in Detective Comics #742, Montoya finds herself with another new partner — recently transferred Metropolitan Crispus Allen.
Montoya and Allen are featured alongside their fellow officers in the GCPD in April 2000’s Gotham City Secret Files and Origins, in her third Who’s Who-style writeup:
Renee Montoya owes her promotion to Lt. Essen-Gordon, who conferred upon Montoya the detective’s shield shortly before her untimely death. Montoya is currently partnered with Crispus Allen, a former Metropolis homicide detective devoted equally to his job and deeply rooted sense of social responsibility.
Tomorrow: The adventures of Cris and Renee in “A History of Renee Montoya – Part III: On the Beat”!