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In a new wave of comic book writing, lesbian protagonists are finally ready to take the spotlight

Those rumors about Wonder Woman aside, queer characters have only been a real part of mainstream comic books since the early 1990s -- and usually as supporting players defined by their sexuality. For example, in a GLAAD award-winning issue of Green Lantern written by Judd Winick, the hero's friend Terry was savagely gay-bashed by gang members. Recently, though, a new wave of lesbian crusaders has barged on the scene in DC Comics, kicking ass, taking names, and sometimes even getting the girl.

Leading the pack is the Question, the female protagonist of the current DC miniseries Crime Bible: The Five Lessons of Blood. In her civilian identity of Renee Montoya, the Question was a member of the Gotham City Police Department, but she resigned in the face of rampant corruption and the death of her partner. In her despair, Montoya spurned her girlfriend and retreated into an alcoholic haze. In the yearlong weekly series 52, Montoya was mentored by the philosophical detective the Question and took on the hero's mantle when he died.

Crime Bible, which started at the end of October, sees the new female Question -- sporting a fedora, trench coat, and faceless mask -- investigating a secret religion based on murder, blackmail, and depravity. As she tracks down the cult's Bible, the tenets of which makes Gordon Gekko's "greed is good" mantra sound like the Golden Rule, she finds herself both horrified by its depravity and oddly drawn to its embracing of self-determination.

"In 52, Renee was rudderless, trying to find herself," says DC Comics executive editor Dan DiDio. "Now, in Crime Bible, she's taken on the role of the Question and we're dealing with the ramifications."

Unlike Superman and Batman, the Question isn't a natural fit in the capes-and-long-johns community. By the second issue, she's literally and figuratively seduced by members of the Religion of Crime. "Other heroes take to the superhero thing easily," says DiDio. "Renee is uncomfortable with it -- she's still trying to find her way."

In the third issue Montoya encounters former flame Kate Kane, a socialite now fighting crime as the masked heroine Batwoman. Like Montoya, Kane is a reinterpretation of a classic DC character. Ironically, the original Batwoman was a romantic interest for Batman back in the 1950s, complete with yellow spandex costume, high-heeled booties, and handy bat-purse. While the full nature of Montoya's relationship with the new Batwoman has yet to be explained, it has been revealed they had a long-term relationship that ended a decade ago.

"Renee loves Kate -- that's a given. They've got a long, complicated history that's only been hinted at thus far..." Crime Bible writer Greg Rucka said on the blog Who Is the Question? "They are each the other's great passion. But, like many great passions, that doesn't actually mean they're good for each other."

DiDio says that despite the characters' rough edges, the editorial staff has taken care to avoid perpetuating lesbian stereotypes. "Stereotypes come from weak writing. We're very comfortable presenting these characters because we're approaching them as individuals. Greg has a real tight rein on who these women are. And the feedback so far has been tremendous."

Batwoman and the Question aren't the only sapphic superfolks stalking the streets of the DC Universe, either. Lovers Knockout and Scandal are both members of the Secret Six, while Amazonian powerhouse Grace and the density-altering heroine Thunder have a sexual relationship in the pages of The Outsiders. And when Catwoman, now more of an antihero than a villainess, retired to raise her newborn child, her lesbian friend Holly took on the guise of the ferocious feline.

Are these queer avengers here to stay--and stay gay? Knockout was recently murdered and, in a recent issue, it looked like Thunder was evicted from the Outsiders. But DiDio promises both Question and Batwoman will have "prominent roles" in 2008, after the current Crime Bible series wraps in February. As more writers who are gay -- like Phil Jimenez (Wonder Woman), Andersen Gabrych (Batman), and Allan Heinberg (Young Avengers) -- and gay-friendly, like Winick and current Wonder Woman scribe Gail Simone, break into the comics field, it's inevitable we'll see more and better depictions of LGBT characters.

"When we introduced Batwoman we wanted to make the readers very aware of the fact she was gay, but more importantly that she was a strong superhero in her own right. The stories and the characters always come first." says DiDio. "We don't make decisions like, 'Let's tackle racism or homophobia in the next issue of Superman.' Gay and lesbian heroes -- and villains -- are a part of the DC Universe, and their stories are just as interesting as the straight ones."

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