The Anger Leaks: Greg Rucka On The Question, Part Two
If there’s one great thing we’ve gotten out of DC’s Convergence event, it’s that it has provided a unique and welcome opportunity for creators to return to characters from a very specific time, giving them one more opportunity to set a few things right and give readers a little bit of fanservice along the way. For me, the most anticipated part of that was being able to see Greg Rucka return to Renee Montoya alongside artist Cully Hamner in Convergence: The Question.
To mark the occasion, I spoke to Rucka about his return to the Question, following up on our in-depth interview about Batman and Gotham Central. In the second part of our two-part interview we talked about Renee Montoya’s unraveling life, her transformation into The Question, and her search for inner peace, as well as her disappearance in the New 52 and her return in Convergence. This interview contains spoilers for Convergence: The Question.
CA: What changed about Renee when she took on the identity of the Question? Towards the end of her pre-Question life, you put her through some very rough stuff. Half a Life is brutal.
GR: We measure our heroes by the adversities they must overcome. It ain’t much of a gig if anybody can fall into it. Renee’s journey in 52, in part, is finding the place where she can let go of all this regret, all this pain, and all this anger, which has always been her struggle, and exchange it for, if not a service of something higher, a pursuit of a less tangible and arguably more noble goal.
Renee is very base, and I mean that not as an insult, but as a descriptor. She’s a base character. She drinks, she screws, she smokes, when we meet her. She is very tactile. She’s very sensory oriented, she’s very results oriented. You look at Central, and I’ve always felt that one of her best moments in Central is the first Corrigan story, where she goes and beats the living hell out of him, and she enjoys that.
Part of that spiral that begins with the rejection of her family when she comes out in Half a Life is this mounting alcoholism, this mounting self-abuse, and this mounting need to validate her life and her existence in extremes. “I am going to punch, I am going to kiss, I am going to yell, I am going to weep, I am going to feel all these things.” And Charlie brings her up out of that, and then leaves her, quite literally, before she feels like the job is completed. She has to take the rest of the journey on her own.
One of the things that I thought Denny did brilliantly is that Charlie attains a level of inner peace with himself that is evident. You look at the issue where he’s buried up to his neck. You know the one I’m talking about, with that brilliant Denys Cowan/Bill Sienkiewicz cover.
Clearly, in the course of the first year of that series, he has reached a place where he can literally turn inside and endure that. What fuels him, initially, is this desire to understand, and then the secondary question that arises is, in that understanding, there’s a need for experience, and in that question of experience, there’s a tension between that inner peace and his anger and his outrage at the things he sees, that leads to the question of whether he’ll take a life.
Renee, I don’t think, ever reaches inner peace. I think she reaches a peace with herself. She reaches a place where she accepts herself, but she never fully insulates herself against the emotions that surround her and her connections. That, to me, was in keeping. This is a legacy character. One passes on the mantle to the other. That doesn’t mean that they’re the same.
Like I said, I know we got stick about it. There are people even today who hate the idea of Renee as the Question, but to me it made perfect sense. It was, I thought, a rather logical progression for the characters, that their journey would move in this way. It made sense to me.
CA: The idea of Renee being that kind of base and visceral character…
GR: Certainly at the start.
CA: Was that another idea that clicked with you immediately? I remember, as a reader, it being really surprising, because I’d always imagined her as the straight-laced counterpart to Harvey Bullock that she is on The Animated Series.
GR: Right. Except think about who Harvey Bullock is and then ask me what it’s like to be his partner for a couple years. Renee was always very tightly controlled, and like, I think, many people who have to live in the closet, kept things very proper and right and compartmentalized. When the closet was no longer an option, her exit was so traumatic — she didn’t out herself, she was outed, and she was outed pretty horribly. And then her support network all but evaporates. That anger leaks. It starts to spread. All of these things that had been so tightly tamped down began to erupt.
In large part, Gotham Central, at least with Renee, is a study of this woman coming unraveled. I think you see it over the course of the run. She is absolutely professional. Maybe not absolutely by the book, but you don’t look at her and expect her to depart from the straight and narrow, and then you hit Half a Life, and that’s when she starts bending rules a little more. You even see it in Half a Life, she’s willing to go through stuff. The whole Marty Lipari case, and what she’s willing to cope with there, and how she relates to Cris, how she relates to the case. And then when stuff starts coming uncorked, it all comes uncorked.
CA: When the New 52 happened, I remember that personally, Renee was one of those characters that I thought had so much left to do. It felt like she’d just become the Question. She was someone I’ve really missed, going forward.
GR: I don’t think you were alone in that.
CA: I’m assuming it was the same way for you.
GR: Yeah, but for me, it’s different. I’m referring to readers, not to the guy who was no longer working at DC as of mid-2009. There are many characters that I miss, and would’ve loved to have given a proper farewell to. They made their decisions for their reasons. It was an unfortunate time for the character, and I think they really weren’t sure what they were going to do or how they were going to do it. I think that’s one of the reasons she vanished in the New 52.
CA: So when the opportunity came up with Convergence to not only bring back the character but to also bring back that whole world around her, was that something it was easy to get back to?
GR: Appallingly so. [Laughs] It took remarkably little effort. It took far greater effort to figure out what the story was, but it did not take any effort of significant time to achieve it once I knew. It’s kind of depressing how easily certain voices come back to you. I wrote that first Convergence script after sitting on it and sitting on it, I think I wrote it in a night. I think I wrote the first one in a night. When it was ready to write, it just came out.
CA: Obviously, it’s called The Question, Renee’s at the center of it. Renee and her family form that emotional arc, which I told you before we started the interview was really emotional for me, to see Renee finally get that peace with her father. But it’s not just Renee, it’s Two-Face, it’s Batwoman, it’s Huntress. It’s these characters that I strongly identify with you. It’s the band getting back together.
GR: Yeah, very deliberately so. That is exactly what Convergence, or at least the support minis, are supposed to be. I don’t think this is a bad or pejorative term to use, but those minis are supposed to be fanservice, right? It’s an opportunity for people to go back and revisit characters and stories that have not been touched or, in some cases, even acknowledged over the past few years, since there’s been this New 52. So part of the mandate was, well, if you’re going to do a Question story, it needs to have those elements. It needs to be of that time.
We were given certain things that had to happen in these miniseries. The domes had to go down and there had to be a fight. Part of the reason I wanted to do this was to be able to tie up ends that I had not been able to appropriately tie off, and that had been dangling since nobody else had picked them up, either because there was no opportunity or no means.
CA: There are a few of these that definitely feel like fanservice…
GR: And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’ve seen this on my Twitter feed all day, there have been a lot of people reaching out to me saying, “Thank you so much, I was so glad to read them again,” and there’s nothing wrong with that. You can argue that it’s limiting your potential audience, but I didn’t sit down and write this story with the intention of it being the #1 book for May, and I knew that wasn’t going to be what happened, even if I wanted it to be. So it mattered to me to be able to give those fans of the characters, who had not had a chance to see them, a story that would make them happy, and potentially a story that they could sit down afterwards and say, “You know, I want more, but if this is all I get, then I can walk away, I can savor it, and I can be happy with it.”
CA: There’s a desire in a lot of these stories that seems to be geared towards specifically righting a wrong. You see it in The Atom and in Nightwing/Oracle, and most certainly in The Question. It’s Renee’s happy ending. If we never see another Renee Montoya-as-the-Question story, she helps Two-Face, she kisses Batwoman, and her father tells her she’s perfect. Like I said, it was very emotional for me as a fan of the character to finally see her have that.
GR: Yeah. Look, if I never write another thing for DC, this is a good story to say goodbye with. I feel like I would have done well by the characters that mattered the most to me, that I felt the most personally connected to.
We’re talking about an event, right? And the thing that I hate most about events is that they don’t matter. They’re an excuse to upset the apple cart. And then, speaking as the guy who has been brought in as the utility player on more events than I can count at DC over the years, I would always be given an ancillary story and I would be told, “This has to happen and this has to happen.” And I’d say, “That’s great, but it doesn’t have any emotional content. You’re giving me plot beats.”
I want the story to matter. I want to write things that you care about. If I do my job really well, I write something that, when you set it down, it’s moved you. It’s given you something to think about, or it’ll come back to you in six hours or eight hours or two weeks. You’ll think, “Oh, I really liked that,” or “Ooh, I feel bad for that character.” That’s the job, man.
So there wasn’t a question — ha ha ha — of what I wanted the result to be in the macro. What the story itself was going to be, I didn’t really understand until I started writing it, and then it became very clear what it had to be. I think, just speaking very personally, that I was sitting down to do it at a time where I was needing to process some stuff, too.
I wrote the first script, and my father had died not long before. That was clearly very much on my mind. I was writing from a very personal place, as well as about characters that I have always been very personally invested in.