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Comic Book / Phantom Lady

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One of the most important covers of comic book history.

"Sexual stimulation by combining 'headlights' with the sadist's dream of tying up a woman."
Fredric Wertham, Seduction of the Innocent

Created by the Eisner & Iger Studio, the Phantom Lady - civilian name Sandra Knight - debuted in August 1941 in Police Comics #1 (alongside Plastic Man, Firebrand and The Human Bomb). To the world, she was the rich socialite daughter of Maryland senator Henry Knight; in her spare time she fought crime and war saboteurs with the aid of a flashlight that could shoot darkness, a car that could do the same, and the occasional right hook.

One of the earliest female superheroes, the Phantom Lady was very much an early distaff expy of Batman. The stories were set in a somewhat realistically depicted Washington, DC as opposed to New York or a fictitious equivalent, which lent the stories the atmosphere of a spy thriller. However, as the artists drawing Phantom Lady were lost to the draft one after the other, the feature was discontinued with Police Comics #23 (October 1943).

In 1947, Fox Features took over publication of the title until 1949. These stories were much more in the traditional comic book style, and introduced a Rogues Gallery including nefarious evil-doers such as Firefiend and Red Horn. More prominently Matthew Baker took over drawing, changing her costume from a fairly modest swimsuit to something considerably more emphasizing.

Fredric Wertham made her one of the most prominent cases in his 1954 Seduction of the Innocent. The cover image shown to the right was used extensively to discuss the sexualization and degradation of women in comics. This was one of rallying cries that lead to the creation of The Comics Code Authority. Her costume was redesigned to be much more modest when a third company, Ajax-Farrel, briefly revived the character in 1954-1955.

Even though DC acquired the rights to Quality's heroes in 1957, the Phantom Lady had to sit out the Silver Age, not coming back until 1973 in DC's Freedom Fighters, where she had joined The Resistance to fight back against the Nazi overlords of the series. She gained the powers of full invisibility and teleportation, but was largely relegated to a support role.

A year earlier, Bill Black had brought back his version of the now-orphaned Fox and Ajax Phantom Lady for Paragon/AC Comics as the Blue Bulletteer, who was later transformed into the sorceress Nightveil to avoid trademark conflicts.

In 1988, the Phantom Lady became a backup character in Action Comics Weekly, now a Legacy Character, with Dee Tyler, the niece of the original, having taken up the mantle. After dying in 2005's Infinite Crisis, the title passed to Stormy Knight in 2006's The Battle for Blüdhaven. Stormy Knight has since flirted with a number of DC superhero teams as a secret agent/quantum physicist/socialite/actress.

In 2012, Phantom Lady gained her own 4-issue miniseries named Phantom Lady and Doll Man. Set on a path of vengeance by the murder of her parents when she was just a child, Jennifer Knight (Phantom Lady) now gets a shot to take down the family responsible. When she goes deep undercover to investigate, what she gets instead is something neither she nor her pint-size pal (Dane Maxwell) could expect.

The Phantom Lady comics have often been accused of being little more than excuses for art of a skimpily-dressed girl in dangerous situations. However, while her image was sexualized, the stories were for the most part not. Her foes did not much care that they were fighting a woman. In an era when most female supers were often treated as inferior to their male peers, the Phantom Lady simply was.

Tropes Associated with the Comic Character:

  • '80s Hair: Dee wore her hair in a 'frizzy' rocker style popularized in the 1980s. This was pretty much the only way to tell her apart from the young image of her predecessor Sandra.
  • Adaptational Modesty: The Jennifer Knight iteration of the character had the least skimpy costume. Rather ironic that she was created during the New 52 which saw a number of female characters become Hotter and Sexier in design.
  • Badass Normal: Originally had no real power. However, she was pretty damn tough for a 120 pound 18 year old.
  • Bondage Is Bad: Despite Wertham's comments, Phantom Lady was rarely captured or tied up by her enemies. Well, no more then any superhero in the '50s. However, she appears on what are arguably the two most iconic "bondage" covers of the Golden Age.
  • Clark Kenting: The inability of Sandra's father and Don Borden to recognize her in her Phantom Lady costume in the old stories could get downright laughable at times. In one issue, she's in costume and tied up in Sandra Knight's bedroom. Don comes in, expecting to find Sandra but finding Phantom Lady "instead," and still does not make the connection. She doesn't even wear a mask, for God's sake!
  • Clothes Make the Legend: Though DC and other publishers have tried giving her more conservative costumes or body suits, she inevitably goes back to wearing a bathing suit and cape.
  • Depending on the Artist: The post Matthew Baker/Farrel books where notorious for having poor internal continuity. Sometimes in the same story she would be a brunette and a blond.
  • Depending on the Writer: Since coming back in the '70s the WW2 version is either a bored senator's daughter or a secret agent trained since birth.
  • Empowered Badass Normal: The Sandra Knight Phantom lady gained invisibility and intangibility powers when she crossed over to the main DC Earth.
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Stormy. This becomes rather tragic after her father is killed and it results in her killing a super villain on live television.
  • Hologram: Dee’s costume sported a medallion that could cast an endless variety of holographic illusions.
  • Imagination-Based Superpower: The New 52's Phantom Lady has black light gloves that can manifest darkness into black fog, blacklight objects (like razors and shields), living shadows, and can turn her intangible.
  • In the Hood: The New 52 version's costume has a hood with a neural interface woven into it that allows her to manipulate backlight into anything she can think of.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Jennifer Knight who is dedicated to bringing down the Bender crime family.
  • Invisibility: Since the '70s she can do this. Whether she's intangible while doing so depends on the version.
  • Invisibility Cloak: Typically what is the source of her invisibility.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: The '40s version would occasionally feature this from a political character.
  • Legacy Character: Dee Tyler in the '80s and Stormy Knight since 2006.
  • Leotard of Power: The Trope Founder of this, though the 2006 version is only technically one piece. The 40s stories featured fairly practical version of this.
  • Loves My Alter Ego: Don Borden was in a bit of a love triangle with both Phantom Lady and his fiancé Sandra. Somewhat subverted by the fact that Sandra never seemed all that interested in Don in either version.
  • Mad Scientist: The '40s version fought more then her share.
  • Male Gaze: Especially the Dee Tyler version.
  • Master of Illusion: The Dee Tyler version had this ability via a medallion on her costume
  • Odd-Shaped Panel: As befitting a character created by Will Eisner, a lot of her early stories featured this.
  • Perpetually Shiny Bodies: She, alone of all the characters, was depicted as this in the 2006 Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters. It was so extreme that there was a fan theory that it might be revealed at some point that she was, in fact, made of plastic.
  • Power Creep, Power Seep: The Freedom Force version of her powers; especially her teleportation, which tended to fluctuate in strength based on the needs of the story.
  • Primary-Color Champion: When her book was published by Fox Feature Syndicate, her costume was changed from a yellow one piece and green cape to a blue one piece and red cape.
  • Required Secondary Powers: As a character whose primary power is to create darkness she has need of her special glasses, with which she can see in the dark. Oddly, they only made their first appearance in the '70s.
  • Retcon: The DC version has retconned a lot of stuff from the '40s version. Notably Don Borden went from her fiancé to her intelligence agency handler, posing as her fiancé, and the original Starman became her cousin (since they already had the same last name).
  • Love Interest: Originally Don Borden, though all iterations of the original character have flirted with other guys.
  • Same Surname Means Related: Notably an Aversion with the Legacy Characters. Despite three of the four Phantom Ladies sharing the same surname, none have been revealed to be related to each other. That said, the original was made into the cousin of the original Starman Post-Crisis.
  • Secret Identity: Only the '40s version made much of this, but all of them had one.
  • Single-Power Superheroes: The Phantom Lady could originally only shoot a ray of darkness at people. By her third issue people learned they could duck underneath it and see fine.
  • Socialite: The Sandra Knight and Stormy Knight versions.
  • Something Person: The Phantom Lady.
  • Stealth Expert: Beyond her ability to create shadows, Phantom Lady was always good at being places where she wasn't allowed and observing things she shouldn't.
  • Stripperific: Her costumes have moved back and forth on this. Usually forth.
  • Super Hero School: Sandra Knight eventually became the dean of the Université Notre Dame des Ombres where Dee Tyler, her first successor, was educated.
  • Super Heroes Wear Capes: Yep.
  • Super Wrist-Gadget: All of the Phantom Ladies have used this with the versatility increasing with each successor.
    • Sandra Knight had a wrist-mounted black light ray to blind her enemies or make her invisible.
    • Dee Tyler's black light ray could do the same things as Sandra's and also had a laser blast function.
    • Stormy Knight's wristbands granted her invisibility, intangibility, teleportation and darkness generation.
    • Jennifer Knight's wristbands can do the same as Stormy's while also granting her the ability to make black light constructs. She can also pull pull people and objects into a completely dark extra-dimensional void called the Shadow Zone. People trapped in the Shadow Zone quickly experience overwhelming fear and isolation, and if left there too long, can lose their minds entirely.
  • Teleportation: When in the Freedom Fighters.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Though the 2006 version does.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: While she and Iron Munro were dating, she conceived a child with him which she secretly gave birth to in a home for unwed mothers and put up for adoption, never telling him about the baby even after they married. After decades of being bounced around the foster system like a rubber ball, Walter Pratt (no relation) turned up again as a super-powered serial killer of women who would eventually kidnap his grandson (her great-grandson) in order to try to harvest his bone marrow.
  • Utility Belt: Sandra Knight usually had one of these. The post-Baker iterations were particularly notable.
  • Will Eisner: It is disputed whether he created her or not. No one is listed as writer of any of the books and he created most of the characters for the Eisner & Iger Syndicate at the time, though he did not necessarily write them.
  • Weaponized Teleportation: Stormy's teleportation is so precise that she can remove body parts and internal organs if she pleases. She threatens to do this to Major Force if he continued antagonizing her.
  • Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys?: The '40s version apparently found a top secret government blacklight device lying around the house.