Phantom Lady is also the title of a Cornell Woolrich novel, filmed in 1944 as Phantom Lady.
Phantom Lady is one of the first female superhero characters, debuting in the 1940s Golden Age of comic books. Originally published by Quality Comics, she is presently part of the DC Comics universe after having been published by a series of now-defunct comic book companies in the interim.
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 poses that contributed to widespread criticism of the medium's effect on children. Phantom Lady was created by the Eisner & Iger studio, one of the first to produce comics on demand for publishers. The character's early adventures were drawn by Arthur Peddy.
Character origin and early publication history
Phantom Lady first appeared in Quality's Police Comics #1 (Aug, 1941), an anthology title whose first issue also included the debut of other characters such as Plastic Man and the Human Bomb. That issue establishes her alter ego as Sandra Knight, the beautiful D.C. debutante daughter of U.S. Senator Henry Knight. One night she happens across two would-be assassins targeting her father, and stealthily thwarts them with nothing more than a rolled-up newspaper. Knight consequently develops a taste for adventure and crime-fighting, and after finding a "black light ray projector" that a family friend named Professor Davis sends to her father, she adopts the device as a weapon that can blind her enemies, or turn herself invisible if she aims it at herself.
She assumes the identity of Phantom Lady in a costume that consists 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, and 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 returning for #22,; and Rudy Palais on #23. Phantom Lady also appeared in Feature Comics #69-71 as part of a crossover with Spider Widow and the Raven.
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)1, is better known to contemporary comic fans than the Quality version because of the good girl art by Matt Baker, one of the few African-American comic book artists of the Golden Age. 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.
Baker's cover for Phantom Lady #17 (Apr, 1949) was reproduced in Seduction of the Innocent, the 1954 book by Dr. Fredric Wertham that denounced 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 as a lurid depiction of "sexual stimulation by combining 'headlights' with the sadist's dream of tying up a woman." 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 then published four issues of what was the second Phantom Lady title, cover-dated Dec. 1954/Jan. 1955 through June 1955. The company also published her as a backup features in two issues of Wonder Boy.
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.
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 the late 1950s and early 1960s. 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 to the Fox version of the character or to one other (e.g., the character was blond on one cover, a brunet with a brown costume on another).
In 1956, DC Comics obtained the rights to the Quality Comics characters, which they believed included Phantom Lady, and re-introduced her 17 years later with a group of other former Quality heroes such as the Freedom Fighters in Justice League of America #107 (Oct. 1973).
As was done with many other characters DC acquired from other publishers or that were holdovers from Golden Age titles, the Freedom Fighters were located on a parallel world, one called "Earth-X", where Nazi Germany had won World War II. The team was featured in its own series for 15 issues (1976-1978), in which it 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 WWII-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 retold the origin of Phantom Lady that had been 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 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 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 and acquired the technology that allowed him to become the first Starman as a result.
The 1994 title Damage established the post-WWII 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-Squadron member Iron Munro (a character introduced in the 1986 series Young All-Stars). Shortly after becoming pregnant, she was kidnapped by old Squadron-foe Baron Blitzkrieg, who stole the fetus from her womb and left her for dead. Phantom Lady remained in hiding for years, never reunited with her husband (or her unborn child), and in her old age became headmistress of a school for female spies.
In Manhunter #23 (June, 2006), Phantom Lady meets the current Manhunter, Kate Spencer, and it is revealed that she is Spencer's grandmother. Phantom Lady and Iron Munro are revealed to have had a child before their marriage who 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.
A second Phantom Lady, a.k.a. 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 are an extensive knowledge of the martial art called Savate, also known as French kickboxing, a wrist-mounted blaster, and a holographic projector that can 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, The Flash, and most frequently in the 1994 Starman title. She joins a new version of the Freedom Fighters in the 1999 JSA series. The character is graphically killed (along with at least two other Freedom Fighters) in Infinite Crisis # 1 (Dec, 2005), in a battle with the Secret Society of Super Villains. Tyler was wounded by the Cheetah and then fatally impaled by Deathstroke.
A new Phantom Lady is introduced in Crisis Aftermath: The Battle for Blüdhaven, and is now one of the metahumans that guards 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 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 to the Human Bomb and Major Force), but shows some hint of respect for the new Doll Man, hinting that they worked together for some time. Her wristbands not only project light but can bend reality.
She does not mantain a secret identity. In Brave New World a radio programme 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 doppleganger. Stormy Knight does not, as yet, know of her father's fate. 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 whoever's running S.H.A.D.E. This figure, a cyborg named Gonzo the Mechanical Bastard, is impersonating Senator Knight.
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 spoiled so she won't end up like other socialites. Her wrists bands appear to be able to transport Stormy and others from the third dismension to the fourth dimension.
Spoilers end here.
A new Phantom Lady is shown in the Elseworlds comic Kingdom Come, who is described in the series' endnotes as a phantom of the original version.
The Blue Bulleteer
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 an acquisition of characters from Charlton Comics (which ostensibly included the Fox-derived assets) gave it the rights to the characters. 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-1976 U.S. copyright law).
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 intangable 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.