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 fan service and Good Girl Art. 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:
- Action Girl: One of the earliest examples in comics, although she was preceded by, to name eight, Sheena, Fantomah, the Woman in Red, Lady Luck, the Golden Age Red Tornado, Bulletgirl, Miss Fury, and Hawkwoman. Phantom Lady in most versions is pretty good at throwing a punch.
- Alternate Company Equivalent: Nightveil is the AC comics version, Shadow Lady is Big Bang's. Silk Spectre is DC's.
- Alternate Continuity: The Phantom Lady has appeared in a lot of comics over the years, not all of them published by DC.
- Badass Cape: All versions have them. They never make much sense.
- Badass Normal: Originally had no real power. However, she was pretty damn tough for a 120 pound 18 year old.
- Bare Your Midriff: The 2006 version does this.
- Bathtub Scene: The original comic had a few of these.
- 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.
- Building Swing: The '40s and '50s version did this on occasion.
- Casting a Shadow: Her primary superpower from the '40s onward. Not always very useful, and pretty easy to get around.
- Chest Insignia: The 2006 version features this.
- 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.
- Clark Kenting: Notably subverted in the '40s version where a frequent challenge was the fact that her costume featured no mask of any kind, leading to her having to disguise her face using various methods from people who would recognize her.
- Cleavage Window: The '50s version is arguably the original Trope Codifier.
- Cool Car: Well, considering it's the '40s, pretty cool.
- Crime Fighting With Cash: Not above doing this on occasion.
- Damsel in Distress: Notably subverted in her original run, where she was never saved by outside forces, and got out of all her jams by herself.
- 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.
- Domino Mask: The '40s version wore one on occasion.
- Fanservice: Yep.
- Fan Service Cover: That quite nearly ended the entire comic book industry.
- Some of her Late '40s Books had her on the cover while being mostly 'true' crime stories.
- Form-Fitting Wardrobe: Usually present but occasionally subverted. Despite wearing a bathing suit in all her appearances, her post-Baker costume was somewhat loose.
- 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.
- 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.
- Meaningful Name: "Knight" in general; Stormy Knight in particular.
- Most Common Super Power: What people tend to remember.
- Ms. Fanservice: One of first superheroine example.
- 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.
- 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).
- Rich Idiot with No Day Job: Possibly justified by the fact that well she was a rich woman in the '40s. A day job would be suspicious.
- Romantic Interest: Originally Don Borden, though all iterations of the original character have flirted with other guys.
- Same Surname Means Related: Notably an Aversion. Despite three of the four Phantom Ladies sharing the same surname, none have been revealed to be related to each other.
- Secret Identity: Only the '40s version made much of this, but all of them had one.
- She's Got Legs: If Matt Baker's art wasn't emphasizing her chest, it was emphasizing her legs. Sometimes it was both.
- 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.
- 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.
- Super Heroes Wear Capes: Yep.
- Teleportation: When in the Freedom Fighters.
- The Cowl: The original Lady was very much of one of these. The Freedom Fighters and modern day flashback to the '40s mostly depicted her as The Cape. The 2006 version is back to the cowl.
- Thigh-High Boots: Stormy Knight
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: Though the 2006 version does.
- 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.
- Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys??: The '40s version apparently found a top secret government blacklight device lying around the house.