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 often listed as her creator. After Phantom Lady was acquired by Fox Feature Syndicate in the late 1940's, "good girl" artist Matt Baker made her character 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.
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. Quality published Phantom Lady stories for 23 issues before the character was picked up 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. Fox also famously changed her costume to a far more revealing blue-and-red design that exposed her cleavage and much of her 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.
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, though it only ran four issues. At this point the Comics Code Authority had been established, so Ajax-Farrell redesigned Phantom Lady's costume so that her cleavage was covered. 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 alive 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, both AC Comics and DC Comics sought to revive Phantom Lady. AC believed that the character was now in the Public Domain and began publishing new Phantom Lady stories. DC threatened to sue, insisting that they had actually bought the rights to Phantom Lady and all of the other Golden Age Quality Comics characters. To avoid a legal battle with the larger publisher, AC changed the name of their Phantom Lady and she evolved into a different character (see Alternate Versions, below).
DC made Phantom Lady into 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, but this was combined with the revealing aspects of her Fox era blue and red costume 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 is now considered Public Domain, but Phantom Lady wearing a lemon and lime costume is considered the property of DC Comics. 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). As a member of the Freedom Fighters, 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, and 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 name from Sandra Knight to Laura Wright. The Blue Bulleteer wore an even skimpier version of Phantom Lady's blue-and-red costume from the Fox Feature era. Unlike Phantom Lady, the character employed a pair of revolvers as weapons and wore a blue mask. But in a nod to her previous identity, Laura Wright was still 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 newfound 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 very 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: 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 an obvious parody of Phantom Lady. Besides her very similar name, Shadow Lady wore a sexy blue and red costume that closely resembled the Fox Feature era Phantom Lady costume, and her primary weapon was a "shadow ray projector" -- a clone of Phantom Lady's black light ray projector.
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 very similar to that of Phantom Lady. But as with the other Watchmen characters, Silk Spectre's origin and personality became uniquely her own.