Phantom Lady

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Phantom Lady is a superheroine, one of the first female superhero characters to debut in the 1940s Golden Age of Comic Books. Originally published by Quality Comics, the character was subsequently published by a series of now-defunct comic book companies, and is currently owned by DC Comics.

As published by Fox Feature Syndicate in the late 1940s, the busty and scantily-clad Phantom Lady is a notable and controversial example of "good girl art," a style of comic art depicting voluptuous female characters in provocative situations and pin-up girl|pin-up poses that contributed to widespread criticism of the medium's effect on children. Phantom Lady was created by theEisner & Iger studio, one of the first to produce comics on demand for publishers. The character's early adventures were drawn by Arthur Peddy.

Contents

Character Origin and Early Publication History

Panel from Quality Comics' Police Comics, depicting Phantom Lady's black ray gun
Panel from Quality Comics' Police Comics, depicting Phantom Lady's black ray gun

Quality Comics

Phantom Lady first appeared in Quality's Police Comics #1 (Aug, 1941), an anthology title the first issue of which also included the debut of characters such as Plastic Man and the Human Bomb. That issue established her alter ego as Sandra Knight, the beautiful Washington, D.C. debutante daughter of United States Senate|U.S. SenatorHenry Knight. One night, Sandra happened across two would-be assassins targeting her father, and stealthily thwarted them with nothing more than a rolled-up newspaper. Knight consequently developed a taste for adventure and crime-fighting, and after finding a "black light ray projector" that a family friend named Professor Davis sent to her father, she adopted the device as a weapon that could blind her enemies, or turn herself invisible if she aimed it at herself.

She assumed the identity of Phantom Lady in a costume consisting of a green cape and the equivalent of a one-piece yellow swimsuit. Stories published decades later by DC Comics after it acquired the character would alter details of this origin by giving her a more active and aggressive role in her own empowerment, explaining her skimpy costume as a deliberate tactic to distract her usually male foes.

Phantom Lady ran as one of the features in Police Comics through #23. Arthur Peddy continued as the artist through #13, with Joe Kubert drawing her feature in Police Comics #14-17; Frank Borth on #18-21; Arthur Peddy returned for #22,; and Rudy Palais on #23. Phantom Lady also appeared in Feature Comics #69-71 as part of a crossover|crossover with Spider Widow and the Raven.

Fox Feature Syndicate & Star Publications

After Quality stopped publishing the adventures of Phantom Lady, what was now simply Iger Studios believed it owned the character and assigned it to Fox Feature Syndicate, a move that would later cause confusion as to who actually owned the character's copyright. The Fox version which premiered in Phantom Lady #13 (taking over the numbering of Wotalife Comics) As new periodical titles were subject to an expensive registration fee by the postal service to receive a second class mail permit, Golden Age comic book publishers frequently continued the numbering of old titles on new ones, hence Phantom Lady "continuing" from the completely unrelated Wotalife. is better known to contemporary comic fans than the Quality version because of the "good girl art" of Matt Baker (artist)|Matt Baker. Baker altered her costume by changing the colors to red and blue, substantially revealing her cleavage, and adding a very short skirt. Fox published Phantom Lady only through issue 26 (Apr, 1949), though the character guest starred in All-Top Comics #8-17, also with art by Baker. Her rogue's gallery in these two Fox titles included the Avenging Skulls; the Fire Fiend; the Killer Clown; Kurtz, the Robbing Robot; the Subway Slayer; and Vulture.

Phantom Lady vol. 1, #17 (April 1948), Fox Feature Syndicate. Cover art by Matt Baker
Phantom Lady vol. 1, #17 (April 1948), Fox Feature Syndicate. Cover art by Matt Baker

Baker's cover for Phantom Lady #17 (Apr, 1949) was reproduced in Seduction of the Innocent, the 1954 book by Dr. Fredric Wertham denouncing what he saw as the morally corrupting effect of comics on children. The cover, which illustrated Phantom Lady attempting to escape from ropes, was presented by Wertham with a caption that read, "Sexual stimulation by combining 'headlights' with the sadist's dream of Bondage (BDSM)|tying up a woman."Wertham, Fredric. Seduction of the Innocent. Rinehart and Company, Inc., 1954. Picture insert In the meantime, Fox went under and its assets were acquired by other publishers, and a Phantom Lady story from All-Top was then reprinted as a backup feature in Jungle Thrills by Star Publications, which then itself went out of business.

Ajax-Farrell Publications

Ajax-Farrell Publications then published four issues of the second Phantom Lady title, cover dated Dec. 1954/Jan. 1955 through June 1955. The company also published her as a backup feature in two issues of Wonder Boy.

Phantom Lady vol. 2, #2 (February/March 1955) Ajax-Farrell Publications.
Phantom Lady vol. 2, #2 (February/March 1955) Ajax-Farrell Publications.

By then, Wertham's efforts had led to a Congressional investigation into the comics industry, and publishers formed the self-censoring Comics Code Authority in the fall of 1954. Some changes were consequently made to the Phantom Lady's costume, so that her cleavage was covered and shorts replaced her skirt.

Charlton Comics & I.W. Publications

Farrell's assets were later acquired by Charlton Comics, and, until DC relaunched the character in the 1970s, Phantom Lady's only appearances were in reprinted Matt Baker stories in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Skywald Publications#Israel Waldman|Israel Waldman's I. W. Publications (later Super Comics), a company that published unauthorized reprints from 1958–1964, included Phantom Lady reprints in issues of Great Action Comics and Daring Adventures. These comics featured new cover images of Phantom Lady that bore little visual consistency either to the Fox version of the character or each other (e.g., the character was blonde on one cover, brunette with a brown costume on another).

DC Comics

Sandra Knight

Cat-Man, with fellow Quality superheroes the Human Bomb and Uncle Sam.
Cat-Man, with fellow Quality superheroes the Human Bomb and Uncle Sam.

In 1956, DC Comics obtained the rights to the Quality Comics characters, which they believed included Phantom Lady, and reintroduced her 17 years later with a group of other former Quality heroes as the Freedom Fighters in Justice League of America #107 (Oct. 1973). As was done with many characters DC acquired from other publishers, or that were holdovers from Golden Age titles, the Freedom Fighters were relocated to a Multiverse (DC Comics)|parallel world Their particular earth was referred to as "List of DC Multiverse worlds#Catalogued|Earth-X". On Earth-X, Nazi Germany had won World War II. The team was later featured in its own series for 15 issues (1976–1978), in which they temporarily left Earth-X for "Earth-1" (where most DC titles are set) and Phantom Lady was given real phantom-like powers.

In 1981, Phantom Lady became a recurring guest star of All-Star Squadron, a superhero-team title set on "Earth-2", the locale for DC's World War II-era superheroes, and at a time prior to when she and the other Freedom Fighters were supposed to have left for Earth-X. Phantom Lady then appeared with the rest of DC's superheroes in Crisis on Infinite Earths, a story that was intended to eliminate the confusing histories that DC had attached to its characters by retroactively merging the various parallel worlds into one. This left Phantom Lady's Earth-X days written out of her history, and the Freedom Fighters became a mere splinter group of the All-Star Squadron.

DC also retroactive continuity|retconned the origin of Phantom Lady established in Quality's Police Comics, so that she now belonged to the prestigious Knight family of Opal City, a locale central to DC's Starman |Starman line of heroes. Her formative story was changed so that she overtook her father's would-be assassins with her fists instead of a newspaper. Lastly, she was given a more active role in the acquisition of her black light ray, which she no longer received from a mere family friend but instead from a scientist named Dr. Abraham Davis, who had escaped from Nazism|Nazi-controlled Europe. In the retelling, Sandra Knight gave asylum to Davis, setting him up in a laboratory and helping him to complete his invention. Ted Knight, now established as her cousin, also aided Davis, as a result acquiring the technology that allowed him to become the first Starman.

The 1994 title Damage established the post-World War II history for Phantom Lady. She was made an agent of a Cold War-era government intelligence agency called Argent, in which she met and married fellow former-All Star Squadron member Iron Munro (a character introduced in the 1986 series Young All-Stars). The two were paired on several missions and fought a Soviet-backed agent named The Baron, actually the German Baron Blitzkrieg, a foe both had met during World War II. Shortly after becoming pregnant, Sandra was kidnapped by The Baron who stole the fetus from her womb and left her for dead. After escaping from Communist Poland, Sandra wanted out of the spy game and turned to an old friend, Human Bomb#Roy Lincoln|Roy Lincoln. He helped her, and soon thereafter she started the Universite Notre Dame Des Ombres (the University of Our Lady of the Shadows) in the hopes of making further intelligence contacts and finding her baby; unfortunately, she was not successful. Phantom Lady's presence in the U.S. and her work with American Intelligence was kept a secret to most; she never reunited with her husband, and in her old age became headmistress of the school she began, now a training center for female spies in Washington, D.C.

In Manhunter #23 (June, 2006), Phantom Lady met the current Manhunter, Kate Spencer, and it was revealed that she was Spencer's grandmother. Phantom Lady and Iron Munro were revealed to have had a child before their marriage whom they gave up for adoption—Walter Pratt, Spencer's father. The Golden Age Atom, Al Pratt, had allowed Phantom Lady to use his contact information so that she could get into a home for unwed mothers, causing the belief that the child was Pratt's son. Knight and Munro still keep in contact, as she brought him to meet Kate and her son, Ramsey.

Dee Tyler

Dee Tyler as the Phantom Lady on the cover of Action Comics Weekly #639. Art by Kevin Nowlan.
Dee Tyler as the Phantom Lady on the cover of Action Comics Weekly #639. Art by Kevin Nowlan.

A second Phantom Lady, Delilah "Dee" Tyler, was introduced in Action Comics Weekly #636 (January, 1989) and was given a back-up feature in that title through #641 with art by Chuck Austen. Tyler was trained by the original, the now-elderly Sandra Knight, and given Knight's costume and equipment.

It was heavily implied in that series that she was not alone in being thus trained and equipped. Dee also learned many of her skills at the exclusive Université Notre Dame des Ombres (Our Lady of the Shadows). Her primary abilities were an extensive knowledge of the martial art called Savate, also known as French kickboxing, a wrist-mounted blaster, and a holographic projector that could be used to cast powerful illusions.

This successor Phantom Lady never received a series of her own, but was a periodic guest star in other titles, including the 1988 Starman, Flash, and most frequently in the 1994 Starman title. She joined a new version of the Freedom Fighters in the 1999 JSA series.

The character was graphically killed (along with at least two other Freedom Fighters) in Infinite Crisis #1 (Dec, 2005), in a battle against the Society. The group was ambushed while investigating the meeting place of other supervillains. Tyler was wounded by the Cheetah and then fatally impaled by Deathstroke. Her body was hung on the Washington Monument along with the Human Bomb and Black Condor.

Stormy Knight

Phantom Lady as seen on the cover of July 2006's Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters #1. Art by Daniel Acuña.
Phantom Lady as seen on the cover of July 2006's Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters #1. Art by Daniel Acuña.

A new Phantom Lady was introduced in Crisis Aftermath: The Battle for Blüdhaven, and is now one of the metahumans guarding Blüdhaven. She appears in the limited series Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters. Her name is Stormy Knight and, like the original character, her father is a U.S. Senator, though no connection to the other Knight characters has been established.

She seems to know Father Time (DC Comics)|Father Time and has hinted that they've met before with him in a different guise, referring to his look as "this year's look is Colonel Sanders, Time?" She acts like a spoiled movie star and treats her other teammates like the popular girl in high school would treat the geeks (especially the Human Bomb and Major Force), but shows some hint of respect for the new Doll Man#Lester Cole|Doll Man, hinting that they worked together for some time. Her wristbands not only project light but can bend reality.

She does not maintain a secret identity. In Brave New World, a radio program names her as Stormy Knight. Like other members of the Blüdhaven team, this incarnation of Phantom Lady is a cold-blooded killer, although there are indications in issue #1 of Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, as she finds herself defending her actions, that she may be disturbed by what she is ordered to do. Also in issue #1, her father is depicted in a more sympathetic light as a man who might disband the Blüdhaven team if elected. He is murdered on orders of Father Time and replaced by a doppelgänger|doppelganger. It was believed that Senator Knight wanted to run America as a dictatorship enforced by a metahuman army shown through visions created by Uncle Sam, but it appears that the real person who wants America this way is the individual running SHADE. In the second issue of Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, Stormy becomes a Freedom Fighter. She reveals that she has a degree in quantum physics and pretends to be a spoiled idiot so she won't end up like other socialites. Her wrists bands appear to be able to transport Stormy and others from the third dimension to the fourth dimension.

In the second Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters series (Sep 2007), Stormy, still in shock over her father's death, begins to take drugs and drink heavily. After she drunkenly cuts a superpowered troublemaker in half on live television, Black Condor takes her to the extradimensional Heartland, where Uncle Sam tells her she won't leave until her habit has been kicked. Stormy later slits her wrists, but is found in time by Doll Man. Miss America (DC Comics)|Miss America removes all the toxins from her systems, allowing her to recuperate better.

By the end of the miniseries, Stormy decides to forego her superhero career to pursue an acting vocation.

Alternate versions

The Blue Bulleteer

Femforce #38 (1991) AC Comics. The Blue Bulleteer, derived from Matt Baker's Phantom Lady.
Femforce #38 (1991) AC Comics. The Blue Bulleteer, derived from Matt Baker's Phantom Lady.

In the 1970s, Bill Black's Paragon Publications (now AC Comics) began publishing its own revival of Phantom Lady in titles such as Fem Fantastique, on the belief that the character had lapsed into the public domain. Black's Phantom Lady was an even more undressed version of the Matt Baker character, and a mask and ordinary handgun were also added. When DC threatened legal action, AC changed their version to "Nightveil", a supernaturally-themed character who was later made a member of Femforce, the first all-female superhero team; the Bill Black version of the Phantom Lady was retained as Nightveil's original superhero identity, under the name "Blue Bulleteer." AC Comics, as well as other minor publishers such as Verotik, have nonetheless published reprints of the original Quality and Fox stories. Many believe these early stories to have lapsed into the public domain because the original owners failed to renew the copyright before it expired (as was required under pre-Copyright Act of 1976#Term of Protection|1976 U.S. copyright law).

Kingdom Come

A new Phantom Lady is shown in the Elseworlds comic Kingdom Come, who is described in the series' endnotes as a literal phantom (ghost) of the original version. Series co-creator Alex Ross used famed pin-up model Bettie Page as his model for this version of Phantom Lady.

Shadow Lady

Shadow Lady is a character seen in Big Bang Comics, all of whose characters are parodies of DC Comics. Like Sandra Knight, Veronica Prescott is a wealthy debutante, whose father invented the "Shadow Ray Projector". Shadow Lady is not Veronica, however, but is actually a duplicate created by the projector. She has the power to become solid or intangible at will, and has her own Shadow Ray Projector she can use to blind villains. The character's costume, and the art style, are strongly based on Phantom Lady.

52

In the final issue of 52, a new Multiverse is revealed, originally consisting of 52 identical realities. Among the parallel realities shown is one designated "Earth-10". As a result of Mister Mind and the Monster Society of Evil|Mister Mind "eating" aspects of this reality, it takes on visual aspects similar to the pre-Crisis Earth-X, including the Quality characters. The names of the characters and the team are not mentioned in the panel in which they appear, but a character visually similar to the Sandra Knight Phantom Lady appears.

Footnotes

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