Phantom Lady was first published in 1941 by the Eisner & Iger studio, originally for Quality Comics. One of the first female superheroes, the Phantom Lady has undergone several alter egos such as Sandra Knight, Delilah “Dee” Tyler, and Stormy Knight, and is currently licensed by DC Comics. When she first appeared in Quality Comics Police Comics (August 1941), the Phantom Lady’s alter-ego was Sandra Knight, a beautiful daughter of a U.S. Senator named Henry Knight. The Phantom Lady was a superhero who utilized a “black light projector” to blind her enemies and make herself invisible. Her vehicle’s headlights also projected black light. Her character was not given an origin story until after DC Comics acquired her and integrated her into their Freedom Fighters series. In the final issue of the original Freedom Fighters series, she was finally given an origin story. Her thirst for adventure and crime-fighting was developed after one night in which Sandra Knight used a rolled-up newspaper to prevent two assassins from murdering her father. Afterwards, she found a “black light ray projector” that a family friend sent to her father and managed to integrate the device into her crime-fighting technique.
The story that I chose to analyze for the purpose of this blog is Phantom Lady #13. In this issue, a female villain named Tersa Thorn wants revenge against Sandra Knight’s father because he caused Tersa Thorn’s son to be executed via the electric chair. With help, Tersa Thorn procures a robot doppelganger of Sandra Knight and forces her to commit murder. Once the robot is arrested, Tersa Thorn’s henchmen kidnap the human Sandra Knight and substitute the robot for her. She manages to break out of prison and tricks the henchmen into believing that she is the robot, and with the help of her father and the police they catch Tersa and her men. I believe this superhero is significant for a few reasons, one of the most primary being that she was one of the first female superheroes to emerge from the Golden Age. Her character was often criticized for her provocative outfit and poses, and underwent several reconstructions due to it. I believe that it’s important for the class to consider the gender-specific undertones of female superheroes and to understand how their issues were regulated in ways that male superheroes were not. The rhetoric surrounding Lady Phantom argued that her character influenced children in negative ways, and because of that her character was reworked several times. I chose this particular issue because it also featured a female villain, a convention that is arguably uncommon for its time. This issue portrays women to be intelligent and capable of good and evil. However, despite this relatively realistic portrayal of women, in the end of this issue Phantom Lady is still saved by men. She still becomes the trite “damsel-in-distress” that women are so often portrayed as in literature. Also, she is considered to be nearly indistinguishable from her robot counterpart, which could be inferred as making a statement about how women were perceived at the time. The robot is remarkable because she cannot talk without being prompted from Tersa Thorn, but the henchmen at the beginning of the issue believe she is human until they find out from Tersa Thorn that she is in fact a robot. It’s difficult to believe that a robot could be mistaken for a fully fledged person, and it portrays women as vapid and unremarkable, besides the robot’s “beauty.” The Phantom Lady superhero is interesting because by researching it and the historical aspects of the comic, we can gain a better understanding of the gender dynamics of the 1940s.
The link for accessing the particular issue that I analyzed here is: http://comicbookplus.com/?dlid=26918