Gotham Central is a 2002-2006 police procedural comic set in Batman’s hometown of Gotham. Focusing on the underappreciated Gotham City Police Department (GCPD), the comic follows various officers as they take on big bads like Mr. Freeze, Firebug, and Two-Face with minimal involvement from our favorite caped crusader.
One of the story arcs, “Half a Life,” follows detective Renee Montoya as she is outed as a lesbian by Two-Face, who has fallen in love with her. The story is by far one of the most famous ones from Gotham Central, having won an Eisner Award, a Harvey Award, and the Gaylactic Spectrum Award, all in 2004. While many have praised the story, I want to focus on Montoya as the nexus point for male entitlement in the comic. Those who have commented on the topic before mostly point to Two-Face’s affection for Montoya. Two-Face still believes that he and Montoya can have a relationship, despite being at the center of the plot that outed her. Blogger LadyRhian for “Deep Thoughts” describes this assumption as the result of Two-Face’s mental state, writing, “You have to wonder why, knowing of Renee’s lesbianism, Harvey Dent thought it was still possible to win her love. Well, I suppose that’s part of why he’s insane- refusing to accept outcomes he doesn’t like.” While the inability to accept defeat can certainly be part of the explanation, I don’t think an analysis like this explores the comic as much as it could. The whole story is not just one of lesbian experience, but of male entitlement. Harvey Dent is just the culmination of everything the comic sets up from the very beginning.
In this post, I’m going to examine the story of Montoya’s outing and Harvey Dent’s refusal to accept her lesbianism as part of a larger conversation about misogyny and the rejection of queer women. I by no means am suggesting that author Greg Rucka is rejecting queer women or that the story is meant to reject queer experiences, but rather, “Half a Life” dramatizes society’s misogyny over the entire story arc, not just in the climatic moments.
From the beginning of “Half a Life,” Montoya is set up to be the antagonist of the patriarchy. As she completes her morning jog, she is served with court papers from a man named Marty Lipari – a criminal who was acquitted of rape (a familiar story) and assault after evidence “lost” the knife he used to try to stab Montoya upon arrest. Lipari attempts to sue Montoya for $10 million in “damages.” Already we have rape culture in action. A rapist walks free and retaliates against a female officer – specifically the female officer. Montoya’s partner, Crispus Allen, reveals that they made the arrest together:
Thankfully, Allen does not deny that Lipari is a rapist, nor does he support their colleague in Evidence, who was presumably bribed. He is visibly upset at the whole thing, which gave me this fantasy feeling of living in a world where rape is actually taken seriously by law enforcement. However, using “we” to describe the arrest makes abundantly clear that Lipari’s retaliation is precisely as revenge for his damaged masculinity.
As the story continues, we learn that Montoya is a closeted lesbian, hiding her sexuality from her parents, who are devout Catholics, as well as her colleagues. She’s eventually outed when a picture of Montoya and her lover, Daria, kissing is anonymously posted on the GCPD bulletin board, complicating her work life and personal life. The reactions are assholish, to say the least, particularly regarding an officer named Burke. Burke claims his prying into Montoya’s personal life is harmless curiosity, but his questions evoke the sense of male entitlement to a woman’s personal life, particularly her sexuality.
By trying to obtain Daria’s name, Burke shows his interest stems not from wanting to know Montoya and her lover better, but from wanting to use Montoya’s lesbianism as entertainment. The presumption that lesbian love lives exist for the amusement of male viewers calls up associations between lesbianism and the male gaze. Sexual expression between women has been used as titillation for straight male viewers in almost all forms of media, and in these comics panels, there is a literal male gaze – Burke (a man) is literally looking at a photograph of an intimate moment between two women and deriving pleasure from it (though it’s not sexual). The photograph is literally put on display for viewers outside of Renee’s and Daria’s relationship, and Burke is later shown wearing a smile and holding a football, evoking the masculine jock stereotype that “gets off” on watching two women have an intimate moment.
The male gaze is picked up later in the comic, when Lipari is caught capturing a video of Renee and Daria kissing. By taping the couple, Lipari acts as a warped version of a director trying to give his on-screen women “directions” to make their exchange seem more juicy.
In the aftermath, we learn that a copy of the photo has been sent to Montoya’s parents, who are devout Catholics. In a scene where Montoya’s brother visits to console her, the comic reveals that he has known about Montoya’s sexuality for some time and has just come from reassuring the parents that the photograph is a fake. We then see this exchange:
Montoya’s brother obviously sees Montoya’s sexuality as selfish, thereby playing on another stereotype that gays and lesbians are self-centered and greedy, using their sexuality only to hurt others. While he appears to accept her sexuality (after initial rejection), once she is “out,” there’s pressure to cover up that sexuality so others can go about their daily lives. It’s reminiscent of the argument “I can accept your lifestyle, I just don’t want to see it.” Montoya’s brother claims that he wants to keep Montoya in the closet for the benefit of the parents, but there’s also a sense that he is being inconvenienced by being forced to cover for his sister. The complete opposite is echoed following Montoya’s arrest, when Allen expresses disappointment that Montoya didn’t confide in him.
Despite Montoya’s completely legitimate reason for keeping her sexuality hidden, Allen’s anger is partially motivated by his entitlement to his partner’s secrets. Montoya eventually does admit that she should have trusted Allen, and I’m by no means suggesting that Allen doesn’t have a right to feel hurt that his partner couldn’t trust him. However, his anger is stemming out of a presumption that mirrors the brother’s insistence that Montoya keep her sexuality hidden.
Earlier in the comic, we see Montoya’s parents pressure her to find a man so they can have grandchildren, another type of entitlement that is centered around Montoya’s love life.
Notably, Montoya’s parents do not expect the same from their son, claiming the “boys will be boys” defense. The brother will settle down when he’s ready, but Montoya needs to hurry up before becoming an old maid – she needs to find a man to satisfy her father’s desire for grandchildren. Montoya’s lesbianism is not only figured as a sin to her Catholic parents, but the selfishness attached to it further underscores the assumption that female sexuality exists for the benefit of others, particularly men.
At the climax of the story, Montoya is arrested for the murder of Lipari and is later abducted by Two-Face during her prison transfer. That the big bad is Two-Face is interesting it itself. Two-Face’s duality parallels the double life Montoya has been living as a closeted lesbian (in addition to balancing public and private life, professional and personal life, etc.). It also echoes the title of the arc, “Half a Life,” which is meant to describe Montoya’s quality of life in being secretive – Two-Face has deformities on half his face and has two halves to his personality (though I believe only one manifests at a time). Readers learn that Harvey has been in love with Montoya since she visited him at Arkham and showed him kindness, which he mistook for romantic affection. Harvey exhibits jealous behavior when one of his henchmen looks at Montoya in a way he doesn’t like and provides her with a romantic dinner as he recounts how he set up Lipari and the whole plot to destroy Montoya’s life and career, just so she would have nothing to lose by being in a relationship with him.
Harvey’s presumption that kindness means affection is a well-documented problem among women. While some sites like to claim that evolutionary biology is to blame and others simply excuse the phenomenon as men being universally bad at communication, “Half a Life” makes clear that male entitlement is truly to blame. Even with the evidence that Montoya is a lesbian, Harvey refuses to accept that it in any way complicates their “relationship.” His presumption that he is special and is entitled to Montoya’s affection, regardless of her sexuality, causes him to reject Montoya’s refusal until she shifts her tone to something more direct and rude.
Perhaps what is more interesting is that in this moment, Montoya declares her sexuality loudly. In previous scenes, she has been more indirect with her discussions. Even when she rants to the commissioner, she never says the words “lesbian,” “gay,” or “dyke” to describe herself. It is only at this climax when she releases her anger at being outed that she claims her sexual identity directly. Her proclamation shuts Harvey down for good, especially once she declares that she will never love him. In retaliation, Harvey attempts to harm her physically, echoing contemporary instances of women being harmed or killed for rejecting men’s romantic desires.
Harvey’s reaction is especially disturbing given Two-Face’s famous struggle of balancing normalcy with criminal insanity. Various comics and animated series have shown Two-Face to struggle with dissociative identity disorder, where he flips between the Harvey (normal) persona and an evil one as the result of repressed childhood memories. In the moments where he is presuming on Montoya’s affections, he is Harvey, the apparently “normal” persona. When Montoya rejects him, he flips and becomes “evil,” declaring “Harvey’s not here right now” as he strikes her. Rather than arguing that Harvey’s DID points to men having sort of split personalities and only the “evil side” harms women, Rucka’s writing shows how even the normal, “sane” Harvey presumes on Montoya’s affections and rejects her refusal to be with him. He says that his love can make Montoya “whole,” echoing the “half life” from the title and the secrecy, but also pointing to ways in which women are perceived as lesser or only “half” unless in a heterosexual relationship.
By the end of the story, Montoya’s life is utterly and irrevocably changed (she’s outed at work and finally comes out to her parents, who disown her). While her experience is representative of many lesbian women, assuming that the story is simply about secrecy or Harvey’s obsession is incorrect. I don’t get the feeling that Rucka is advocating for queer women to live openly, if they choose not to do so – rather, the comic criticizes the environment that a homophobic, patriarchal society has created for women and dramatizes the effects of male entitlement from the very first pages. In “Half a Life,” Montoya neither has the ability to live closeted or openly. There is no situation in this comic where she can life a “full life” – she either lives openly and faces rejection from her family and ridicule from her coworkers, or she lives closeted and has to endure the burden of secrecy.
Without a straightforward happy ending, Rucka seems to be less concerned with “gritty realism” and more concerned with using Montoya to show readers the effects of a society like Gotham. I know I’m not making any groundbreaking claims here, but I feel that my point needs to be stated since analyses I’ve seen tend to focus exclusively on Harvey’s insanity or the double life that Montoya leads. We can tell that Rucka’s story resists the temptation to use common LGBT+ tropes: Montoya’s outing isn’t pleasant, but her lover isn’t killed, and the story of her relationship isn’t wholly miserable. By the end of the comic, we see Daria waiting outside as Montoya comes out to her parents, and afterward, she’s there to comfort her girlfriend at her most broken. Thus, the focus is less on the spectacle of a lesbian relationship, and more on expressing real affection. Queer women can readily identify with parts (or the whole) of Montoya’s story, but it goes beyond that – it pulls in experiences from multiple identities. Queer women, straight women, Latina women, etc. can all see something of themselves in Montoya, and “Half a Life” shows the real effects of existing as a woman in a world where men feel entitled to their lives.