Note: This page is for Sandra Knight, the original Phantom Lady.
For the second Phantom Lady (active from 1989 - 2005), see: Dee Tyler.
For the third Phantom Lady (active from 2005 - 2011), see: Stormy Knight.
For the current New 52 Phantom Lady (active from 2012 - ), see: Jennifer Knight.
Sandra Knight was the beautiful debutante daughter of respected U.S. Senator Henry Knight, and she was truly devoted to his cause. One night, Sandra discovered a plot to kill her father by two assassins who were trying to cause political strife. She did not have a weapon, so she rolled up a newspaper and managed to use it to take down the villains. Sandra's success gave her an unquenchable taste for crime fighting and adventuring, but she realized that in order to truly become a crime fighter, she would need more than a rolled-up newspaper. She underwent rigorous combat training and honed her stealth, espionage, and detective skills to an impressive degree. She then took a “black light ray projector” that an inventor named Professor Davis had given her father and developed it into a weapon which she could use to blind her opponents and effectively make herself invisible. She further equipped herself with special goggles that enabled her to see in the dark. Donning a deliberately sexy and revealing costume, which she figured would distract male opponents, Sandra Knight became the heroine known as Phantom Lady, Mistress of the Dark.
After the Crisis on Infinite Earths fundamentally altered the DC Universe in 1985, many details of Phantom Lady's origin were changed. Sandra became a member of the prestigious Knight family of Opal City, and her cousin Ted Knight would become the superhero known as Starman. Sandra still saved her Senator father from assassination, but this time took down his would-be assassins with her fists instead of a rolled-up newspaper. Professor Davis became Dr. Abraham Davis, a scientist who had escaped from Nazi-controlled Europe, and Sandra gave him asylum and a laboratory in which to continue his work. Together, they developed the black light ray projector that Sandra used to become Phantom Lady. Similarly, her cousin Ted worked with Davis to acquire the technology that allowed him to become the first Starman.
Phantom Lady was created by the Eisner & Iger Studio for Quality Comics in 1941. Artist Arthur Peddy penciled her first 13 issues and is credited as her creator. After Phantom Lady was acquired by Fox Feature Syndicate in the late 1940's, "good girl" artist Matt Baker re-envisioned her character and made her famous (or infamous) by giving her a notably revealing costume to go along with her curvaceous figure.
Phantom Lady is one of the first superheroines of the Golden Age and appeared during the same year that the most famous heroine in comics, Wonder Woman, made her debut with DC. While Wonder Woman was an immediate success and remained with her original publishing company throughout her history, Phantom Lady has endured a much spottier publication history, appearing in the comics of at least six different publishers before finally joining the DC pantheon in 1973. She remains the most famous and recognizable female character ever created by her original publisher, Quality Comics.
Phantom Lady first appeared in Quality's Police Comics #1 (August 1941), an anthology title; this issue also included the debut of fellow Golden Age characters Plastic Man, Firebrand, and Human Bomb (all of whom later became DC characters). Though Quality's writers never gave Phantom Lady a proper origin story, they established her alter ego as Sandra Knight, the beautiful debutante daughter of U.S. Senator Henry Knight. She was engaged to a government agent named Donald Borden, who sometimes assisted in her crime-fighting exploits. As Phantom Lady, Sandra's costume was essentially a one-piece yellow swimsuit with a green cape, and her primary weapon was a "black light ray projector," which she used to blind her enemies and make herself invisible. In one issue she wore a yellow face mask to hide her identity, but otherwise she went completely maskless. Despite this, somehow no one (not even her father or fiancé) could tell that Phantom Lady was Sandra Knight as long as she was in costume. In later issues her costume became sexier, with a narrow opening down the front that exposed cleavage -- a precursor to her drastically reduced costume with her next publisher. Quality published Phantom Lady stories for 23 issues before the character was bought by Fox Feature Syndicate in the late 1940's.
Fox Feature Syndicate
Phantom Lady was then published by Fox Feature Syndicate, who gave her the first volume of her own title. Artist Matt Baker, a pioneer of "good girl" art in comics, famously changed her costume to a sexy blue-and-red design that exposed much of her cleavage and midriff. During the socially conservative time period of the late 40's and early 50's, her character soon became highly controversial due to her voluptuous figure, skimpy outfit, and tendency to get into provocative situations where she was captured and bound by villains. She became perhaps the prime example of what is now known as good girl art. Phantom Lady (and especially the notorious bondage cover for issue #17) was singled out by critic Fredric Wertham as an example of the "morally corrupt" effect of comics on children, which eventually led to the formation of the Comics Code Authority in 1954. Despite (or perhaps because of) its notoriety, Matt Baker's run on Phantom Lady has enjoyed enduring popularity. Original issues are heavily collected and they have been reprinted many times, even being offered in deluxe hardcover editions.
Fox went under in the 1950's and its assets were acquired by other publishers. Ajax-Farrell Publications printed the second volume of Phantom Lady's own title. By now the Comics Code Authority was in effect, so Ajax-Farrell redesigned Phantom Lady's costume so that her cleavage and midriff were covered. This did little to sway public opinion that her character was still too sexy and inappropriate for underage readers, since she retained her buxom figure and tendency to get captured and tied up by villains on a regular basis. Public pressure eventually forced Ajax-Farrell to cancel her title after only four issues, and the character was relegated to guest appearances in other titles such as Wonder Boy. These stories would prove to be the last new Phantom Lady material published until the 1970's.
Phantom Lady was later acquired by Charlton Comics, but Charlton never produced any new Phantom Lady stories. They kept the character visible in the late 50's and the early 60's by reprinting her popular Fox Feature era issues. I. W. Publications also published unauthorized reprints of her Fox era stories from 1958 until 1964. These comics often featured cover art that was inconsistent with her character, depicting her with blonde hair or wearing costumes of the wrong color.
In the 1970's, 'good girl' artist Bill Black founded a small publishing company called Paragon Publications, which later became Americomics and finally AC Comics (best known as the publisher of the first all-female super-team FemForce). An early focus of the company was reviving classic comic book heroines that had become Public Domain, and they believed Phantom Lady now fell into that category. In 1977 they began publishing new Phantom Lady stories starting with Bizarre Thrills #1, which featured their version of the character on the cover. She wore an even skimpier version of her blue-and-red Matt Baker era costume, but with a blue mask added and small details altered: The 'PL' logo on her belt buckle was now a skull, as was the clasp on her cape. Also in the tradition of Matt Baker's Phantom Lady, she was depicted bound, gagged, and threatened by a villain. Phantom Lady became a recurring character in their publications, starring in stories that were even more provocative than her Fox Feature era exploits. But eventually DC Comics learned of AC's use of the character and threatened to sue, insisting they had bought the rights to Phantom Lady. Though AC could have disputed this since DC had never adopted the Fox Feature version of the character into their canon, they decided it was not worth getting into a legal battle with the much larger publisher. Instead AC changed the name of their Phantom Lady to the Blue Bulleteer, and she evolved into a different character (see Alternate Versions, below).
DC introduced Phantom Lady as their own character in 1973, and she was finally given a full origin story, as none of the character's previous publishers had ever given her a proper origin. For her DC debut, the decision was made to return her costume to its original "lemon and lime" color scheme from the Golden Age. By the 1970's her 'scandalous' Matt Baker era costume was no longer controversial, so that costume's revealing design was combined with the lemon and lime color scheme for a far more provocative look. It was explained that Phantom Lady used this to her advantage in order to distract her male opponents. Phantom Lady's history from Quality Comics was retained by DC as official canon, though her Fox Feature and Ajax-Farrell stories were not. Therefore the Phantom Lady wearing a blue and red costume could be considered Public Domain, while Phantom Lady wearing a yellow and green costume is considered the property of DC Comics. (However, following the conflict with AC, other publishers have refrained from challenging DC's right to the character.) DC grouped Phantom Lady with the other Golden Age characters they had acquired from Quality Comics and formed a new super-team: the Freedom Fighters.
Sandra Knight's origin was retconned following the Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, and her post- World War II history was revealed in DC's Damage title in 1994. The decision was made to age and retire her character, so she quit crime-fighting to become the headmistress of the Universite Notre Dame Des Ombres (the University of Our Lady of the Shadows) in France. Here she met her young protégé, Dee Tyler, whom she trained to become the next Phantom Lady.
Major Story Arcs
Before the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Sandra was part of a superhero group known as the Freedom Fighters on Earth-X (instead of the main DC reality of Earth-One). She was a founding member as well as the only female member of the team. As a Freedom Fighter, Phantom Lady fought the Germans during World War II. Unfortunately for Earth-X, the Nazi party was able to take over the world and stay in power for decades. It was only with the help of the Justice League of America and the Justice Society of America that the Freedom Fighters were able to defeat the Nazi Party and restore democracy to their world.
After their victory on Earth-X, the Freedom Fighters traveled to Earth-One and established themselves in New York City for a short time. Phantom Lady's journey across the dimensions gave her the power to phase through solid objects as well as the power to become invisible. But she was unable to fully explore her new powers due to being turned into silver by the Silver Ghost. Before this happened, however, she and her teammate the Ray (Ray Terrill) entered a romance for each other, and she referred to him as "her darling." This upset the Human Bomb, another teammate who harbored feelings for Sandra. After Phantom Lady was restored to human form, she and the Ray fought crime in New York City for a while before they decided to travel back to Earth-X.
Powers and Abilities
Phantom Lady's specialty was the ability to create intense darkness using her "black light ray projector," which in her pre-DC days was a hand-held weapon aimed and operated like a flashlight. She could use the projector to blind and disorient her opponents and effectively make herself invisible. In the Golden Age she also drove a car that was equipped with black light ray headlights. After becoming a DC heroine, Sandra's black light ray projector took the form of high-tech wristbands so that she could operate with both hands free. She was also equipped with special goggles that enabled her to see in the dark.
During her career as Phantom Lady, Sandra Knight was a superb athlete and an accomplished hand-to-hand fighter, especially skilled at exploiting the distraction caused by her revealing costume.
Sandra was a skilled detective and espionage agent and could move about with great stealth in order to avoid detection.
Phasing and Invisibility
After joining the DC Universe, Phantom Lady had to battle super-powered villains rather than mere criminals, so she received a significant power upgrade thanks to her dimensional travels between Earth-X and Earth-One. With concentration, she could phase through solid objects (even inescapable magical ones like Wonder Woman's Lasso of Truth) as well as turn invisible without the aid of her wristbands. It is not known if Sandra still retained her phasing or invisibility powers by the time of her retirement.
As one of the first super-heroines of the Golden Age as well as one often thought to be in the Public Domain, Phantom Lady has spawned alternate versions that closely resemble her in name, costume, or other details.
For further details: Nightveil
When AC Comics began publishing new Phantom Lady stories in the 1970's and DC threatened to sue, AC changed the name of their Phantom Lady to the Blue Bulleteer and changed her civilian identity from Sandra Knight to Laura Wright. To reflect her new superhero name, she no longer had a "black light ray projector;" instead she was an expert markswoman and employed a pair of revolvers as weapons. She still wore the same costume that AC's Phantom Lady wore previously, but with red holsters added to her belt. In a nod to her previous identity, Laura Wright was the daughter of a U.S. Senator.
AC then decided to have the Blue Bulleteer undergo another transformation. In her later years she became the pupil of a wizard named Azagoth and studied magic in a dimension called Limbo. Through this her youth and beauty were restored, and she became a powerful wielder of magic herself. With her new-found powers she changed her name, first to Nightfall and then to Nightveil, and became a prominent member of AC's all-female super-team known as FemForce. Her look and costume remained similar to that of the Blue Bulleteer (and by extension, Phantom Lady), so to this day the characters are still sometimes confused.
For further details: Cobweb
In the late 1990's, writer Alan Moore (who also created another Phantom Lady analog, Silk Spectre, below) teamed with alternative writer/artist Melinda Gebbie to create the Cobweb, an eroticized feminist homage to Phantom Lady. Laurel Lakeland was a rich and beautiful society girl who, bored with everyday life, created a costumed alter-ego called the Cobweb in order to fight crime. She had no super-powers and battled criminals merely with her wits, fists, and feminine allure. She was given a lesbian sidekick named Clarice, who served as her lover and chauffeur. The Cobweb wore a revealing costume similar to that of the Matt Baker era Phantom Lady, though with a purple and black color scheme and pantyhose complete with garter straps.
For further details: Shadow Lady
In the mid-1990's, Big Bang Comics published a humorous series as an homage to Golden Age comic book characters. One of the featured characters was Shadow Lady, created as a parody of Phantom Lady. Veronica Prescott was a wealthy debutante whose father invented a "shadow ray projector." Veronica took the projector and used it to become Shadow Lady, who was in fact a costumed duplicate of Veronica created by the projector. As Shadow Lady she could become intangible at will, and like Phantom Lady, the projector allowed her to blind her opponents. Shadow Lady wore a sexy blue and red costume based on the Matt Baker Phantom Lady costume. It featured an even skimpier bikini-like top, though her legs were covered by blue tights.
For further details: Silk Spectre
When writer Alan Moore began work on the classic Watchmen series in the 1980's, he wanted to use characters DC had acquired from Charlton Comics to tell the story. He needed a female character for the team and considered a former Charlton heroine named Nightshade, but found her character boring and turned towards Phantom Lady (who had once been owned by Charlton) instead. Ultimately DC nixed the idea of using former Charlton characters, forcing Moore to create alternate versions of those characters for the Watchmen. Phantom Lady became Silk Spectre, who wore a revealing yellow costume patterned after Phantom Lady's DC costume. But as with the other Watchmen characters, Silk Spectre's origin and personality became uniquely her own.