It’s safe to say that, reflecting the culture of its time, many women in the DC Universe have been overshadowed by their male counterparts, particularly the women in various superhero supporting casts. As essential to the respective mythos as characters like Carol Ferris or Iris West are, these characters often aren’t given the same opportunity for growth and development outside of the legacies of the superheroes they accompany. Fortunately, as DC launches a new era for the DCU with its 'Dawn of DC' initiative, the glass ceiling for several major female characters is quietly being fractured as women step into new, important roles across the publishing line’s main continuity.
From overdue professional advancement to the return or introduction of new superheroes from established casts, the DCU is taking subtle strides towards being a more inclusive universe that advances its women rather than just celebrating their roles on the sidelines. Not only are these changes welcome ones but they feel organically earned and additive to the DCU, building on decades of established continuity while taking these characters into new directions befitting their capabilities. Here is how the DCU has moved its women forward as part of an evolving shared universe that honors its own history while progressing rather than remaining frustratingly stagnant in its status quo.
Renee Montoya’s complicated double life
Ever since Jim Gordon officially retired from the position of Gotham City Police Commissioner, the police force has been in even more disarray than usual. Harvey Bullock was Gordon’s initial replacement in the leadership position but bowed out after Gotham City endured several harrowing supervillain attacks. Stepping up into the role is veteran police detective Renee Montoya, who formally accepted the position of Gotham City Police Commissioner in 2021’s The Next Batman: Second Son #1 by John Ridley, Tony Akins, and Mark Morales.
Ridley continues Montoya’s story in the six-part series GCPD: The Blue Wall, joined by artist Stefano Raffaele. As Montoya acclimates to her role as Gotham City's police commissioner, the police force is rocked by internal pressures, including flagrant racism among the police officers and unchecked corruption. To make matters worse, a serial killer stalker has begun targeting those involved in Montoya’s personal life, making her ascension to this leadership role a particularly costly one as she struggles to restore the police force’s tarnished reputation and better serve and protect Gotham.
Montoya lays her life on the line to defend Gotham more than her day job as Police Commissioner, of course. In a short story in the anthology special Lazarus Planet: Legends Reborn #1 by Alex Segura and Clayton Henry, Montoya reclaims her superhero identity as the Question as Gotham is engulfed in acid rain fueled from the magical Lazarus Pit. Montoya inherited the faceless superhero role from her predecessor Vic Sage during the year-long series 52 but had focused on her duties on the police force recently. Now back as the Question, Montoya’s double life has resurfaced with Gotham officially having a bonafide superhero police commissioner and the ultimate culmination of both crimefighting aspects of Montoya’s life and career.
Lois Lane, editor-in-chief
Fearless reporter Lois Lane has maintained her reputation as the DCU’s leading investigative reporter for The Daily Planet, even as the news outlet saw changes in ownership. Lane, using her journalistic instincts and experience to unravel a massive conspiracy, aided by the Question, was explored in the maxi-series Lois Lane: Enemy of the People by Greg Rucka and Mike Perkins. Following this, Lane would take point in various DC titles helmed by Brian Michael Bendis which saw her confronting the new supervillain organization Leviathan, with the investigation especially personal for her after Leviathan murdered her father General Sam Lane.
However, Lane as the head of a clandestine intelligence agency never quite gelled for the character effectively and, after the Leviathan titles came to an end, this aspect of the character was quietly dropped. Lane would resume work as an investigative journalist but largely kept to the sidelines as her son Jon Kent became the new Superman following Clark’s temporary departure from Earth to overthrow the tyrannical Mongul from Warworld. Lane’s professional life would subsequently be shaken up in Action Comics #1050 as the Superman titles entered the Dawn of DC.
Because of Lex Luthor’s telepathic attack on the DCU, anyone who learned Clark and Jon’s secret identities as Superman suffered a grievous mental attack that ran the risk of killing them. The Daily Planet’s longtime editor-in-chief Perry White was the first person to demonstrate this lethal new status quo, walking in on Clark as Superman and nearly dying from the resulting telepathic backlash. With White recuperating, Lane has since stepped up to become the Daily Planet’s new editor-in-chief, now commanding an entire newsroom to stand for truth, justice, and a better tomorrow.
The move is a monumental one for the character, who hadn’t seen much progression in her professional career for decades. In 1966’s Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #62 by Leo Dorfman and Kurt Schaffenberger, White named Clark Kent as his temporary replacement, completely dismissing Lane’s interest in the position. As the staff of The Daily Planet evolved over the years, White would largely resume his role as editor-in-chief while Lane was content in her position as his lead reporter, never really stepping into an editorial role while her penchant for misspelling words became a running joke for the character.
Linda West’s fast break
Over on the Flash Family’s side of the DCU, a new speedster superhero has arrived and from within the Flash’s literal family itself. Wally West’s wife Linda has gained her own connection to the Speed Force, leading to development of super-speed and her own superhero persona. Linda’s superhero ascension not only expands the Flash Family in an organic way but finally gives Linda a more substantial role other than being Wally’s wife and the mother to their children Jai and Irey.
Linda was created by William Messner-Loebs, Greg LaRocque, and Tim Dzon in 1989’s The Flash #28 (vol. 2) as a television reporter operating out of Central City. Linda and Wally would eventually marry and have twins, with the two children quickly developing superpowers of their own after inheriting Wally’s connection to the Speed Force. As she became a mother, Linda’s career took a backseat and, after a brief tenure becoming a scientist to better understand her children’s powers, she largely became a stay-at-home parent. Linda becoming a speedster takes her out of this domestic role and alongside the rest of her family in defending Central City, saving the day between the seconds of the clock.
The Dawn of DC is an era that reflects brighter, more hopeful storytelling as the DCU’s greatest heroes step up to inspire others while saving the day once again. This emphasis has opened the door for its supporting characters to similarly step up into new, important roles that are, in many cases, overdue progressions for them. DC has building a more inclusive future for some time and, with characters like Renee Montoya, Lois Lane, and Linda West leading the charge, this goes beyond normal superhero derring-do as a better reflection of gender equality moving forward.