CCI: Comic Character Investigation #111 juillet 2011
[ENGLISH] This month: Phantom Lady. Since the inception of The Golden Age of comics in 1938, many heroes, and many villains, have splashed their battles across artistic pages, have endured their struggles in those same pages and have intrigued a readership which has loved their adventures for 72 years. This column celebrates such characters by taking a look each month at one of them. Some you will know and some are more obscure, but all hold a significant place in comics, for the world of stories in any medium is about the characters who populate it. The spectacular citizens of the universe who inhabit the comic book nation might be brave or sinister, bold or fearful, but all are characters who we can never forget. So, The Golden Age becomes the Silver Age, The Silver becomes The Bronze and so on, until today and until tomorrow. . . in The Endless Age of comics, and the beings who live inside them.
The Phantom Fatale
The Phantom Lady was one of the most significant of the “good girl” comics, those delightful books which presented readers not only with adventure but with a purposeful sensuality unique to the genre. Matt Baker was one of the later artists to sketch the delectable Sandra Knight who wore a simple and skimpy costume to fight crime. She even battled evil without a mask which should have made her identity easy to discover yet all were “fooled” by her change of clothes which featured a blue, sexy form-fitting outfit and a red cape (earlier colors were a yellow outfit with a green cape).
No mask, obvious sexuality and a gun which fired a ray of black light which could shroud her enemies in complete darkness rounded out the femme fatale. Well placed within the Golden Age and arguably the most seductive woman on comic pages The Phantom Lady was a good girl in every sense of the word. Sexy style and battling bad guys. She had done a run in All Top Comics until 1949. Along with Matt Baker, Jack Kamen drew for the series as well and it was written by Ruth Roche. Fox Features Comics was the publisher. Phantom Lady had stories in ten issues of ATC and also had 11 issues in her own name. In ATC she starred along some lesser known characters like Rulah the Jungle Goddess and Jo-Jo the Congo King but also shared space within those books with none other than The Blue Beetle. Earlier in her published career she was an original product of the well-known Eisner-Iger studio. She was famous for a lot of bondage images, a lot of cleavage and a good amount of violence and blood.
Before artists like Baker and Kamen took the reigns she was illustrated by Arthur Peddy, but it was the work of artist Frank Borth which had brought the Phantom Lady images to greater heights of sensual suggestion. She didn’t survive at the studio but her later resurrection at Fox Features with Baker as one of the artists almost made it as if she never left her first home. Baker had worked for Eisner and Iger.
What gave her stories some intrigue was that she was the daughter of a senator and a girl about town in the nation’s capitol city of DC. Saving her father from an attempt on his life began her career and with the addition of the black light ray device that her father had received from one of his friends she had the necessary power all superheroine’s require.
The series pushed the bounds of secret identity as much or more than any other one of its kind considering the extremely high profile of her secret identity. Her boyfriend Don Borden typically showed up in each issue and like her father, was oblivious to his girl’s special heroic life.
The Phantom Lady was a heroine in the Golden Age but her purpose was more about being a woman who could appeal to male audiences. The series disregarded too many obvious problems which make it seem her mission was more about being a Lady than a Phantom. Still, the Golden Age, perhaps more than any other, is about nostalgia and fond remembrance. Perhaps when we consider all the years that have passed since that age closed its doors to us, it will be enjoyable to know that a sexy superheroine who graced so many books survived the test of time. She was not merely a phantom, or a good girl, but a marker for an aspect of comics which allowed girl characters to become women. And the ladies of comics have been good to us ever since.[James Parducci]
James Parducci is the creator of the comic series Nighthunter. He has been published in multiple periodicals and runs his own freelance writing business in San Diego.