With Phantom Lady's recent return to DC Comics, I thought it would be a good time to study her history and share my findings. Phantom Lady's first appearance was in Police Comics # 1 back in August of 1941. The entire book was reprinted in 2000 as a part of DC's Millennium Edition imprint series. I'm thankful for the reprint since a back issue of the original could cost anywhere from $800 to $12,000 depending on the condition. I picked up the reprint at an antiques mall for about a dollar.
Phantom Lady has the distinction of being the first female super-heroine, tied with the original Black Cat. Both pre-date Wonder Woman by four months.
In her first appearance, Phantom Lady is Sandra Knight, the socialite daughter of Senator Henry Knight. Her weapons include a black light projector which puts her adversaries in total darkness and unable to see. She drove a car whose headlights could do the same. Her costume looked like a yellow swim suit with a green cape, what would later be dubbed a "lemon-lime" uniform (Justice League of America # 107). Her first adventure involved keeping a scientist's explosives formula, which he intended to sell to the War Department, from falling into the hands of enemy spies. The high level of patriotism was seen in most comics of this era. Police Comics # 1 was published less than four months before America's entry into World War II.
The new heroine continued to appear in issues of Police Comics through #23 in 1943. She also appeared in crossovers of Feature Comics #69-71. Quality Comics dropped the character after 1943.
A product of the Iger studios, who supplied comic content to publishers, Phantom Lady was sold to Fox Feature Syndicate in 1947. Her own title began with issue # 13, taking over the numbering of the unrelated Wotalife Comics. The new title ran through issue # 23 in 1949. Her two-year title with Fox coincided with her appearances in All-Top Comics. The titles were obviously cancelled when Fox went out of business.
During the Fox years, Phantom Lady was drawn by Matt Baker, the African-American artist who predates Frank Cho and Ed Benes as the king of cheesecake. In other words, Baker was one of the first to popularize "good girl" art. He redesigned Phantom Lady's costume, changing the colors from yellow & green to blue & red. He also gave her a plunging neckline. The cover of Phantom Lady # 17 is famous for having appeared in Fredric Wertham's 1954 book, Seduction of the Innocent, a denunciation of comics which led to a congressional investigation and the Comics Code Authority.
Matt Baker's work is most recently featured in a new book published by TwoMorrows Publishing called Matt Baker: The Art of Glamour. The book is the artist's biography combined with full story reprints of both Phantom Lady and Sky Girl. The book should be released around the end of November 2012. Prior to this some of Baker's Phantom Lady stories were reprinted in a 1994 trade paperback from Verotik Publications.
Following the demise of Fox Features, the character was later picked up by Ajax-Farrell Publications who did four issues of Phantom Lady from 1954-1955. Coinciding with the appearance of the code, her costume became more modest. She also appeared as a backup in two issues of Ajax-Farrell's Wonder Boy title.
I'll do a second part to this post soon which will include the subsequent history of Phantom Lady when she made her comeback during the Bronze Age of comics.