Roy Thomas Presents: Phantom Lady, Vol. 1 by Ruth Roche
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Phantom Lady would be obscure and mostly forgotten if not for the fact
that cult "good girl" artist Matt Baker did a few of her strips and some
covers. Secretly Sandra Knight, she does Clark Kent one better by not
wearing glasses or doing anything to cover her face when she's fighting
crime as Phantom Lady. This leads to some pretty odd moments, such as
when Sandra cuts out at the sight of danger and Phantom Lady appears,
and no one ever puts two and two together.
That said, in her
early appearances, showcased in this volume, some of the writers do
worry about this. For two stories she wears a veil, covering her face
during action scenes. It's not a great look. Other writers seem to
indicate that those her know her, especially dullard boyfriend Don
Borden, who would give an actual Ken doll a run for lifelessness, and
her father, Senator Knight, never get a good look at her face. But
eventually it was one of the conceits of the book that Sandra Knight and
Phantom Lady were simply assumed to be two people, her identity only
discovered by the occasional criminal a short time before their death.
there is a lot of death. Phantom Lady has no issue with dishing out
death to criminals. She seldom kills them directly, but if she blinds
them and they fall off a roof, she loses no sleep.
No origin is
given for Phantom Lady's powers, which seem to Olympic level strength
and dexterity, as well as a penchant for being in the right place at the
right time and allowing herself to follow some extremely fortunate
"hunches." She also carries a "black light" which functions as a reverse
flashlight, blinding opponents and darkening rooms.
stream of appearances in Fawcett Comics, Phantom Lady traded in her
green and yellow attire for blue and red over at Fox Feature Comics. The
stories, which had been starting to get meta under the scripting of
Frank Borth, became more traditional under Ruth Roche. By meta I mean
that the characters seemed at least semi-aware that they were characters
in a comic book. This allowed readers an easier time when it came to
dismissing the problems in the story, such as Sandra Knight's face being
plainly visible as Phantom Lady, since the tone of the strips was less
serious and more fun.
This all changed over at Fox, as the
stories became prettier to look at, but less interesting to read. There
are occasional high points, or maybe they are simply weird, such as when
Sandra Knight is replaced by a robot or when a serial killer wears
stilts to throw police off from the fact that he's a dwarf, but for the
most part its a steady stream of criminals with elaborate, silly plots
that Phantom lady has to face.
Over all the stories are
enjoyable, and much of the racism that plagues many comics from this
period is not as deep an issue. There is a healthy dose of
proto-feminism here, as well as issues containing classist and ableist
subtexts, which I won't excuse but will say is par for the course in
comics like this.
Then there's the "good girl" aspect. Good girl
artists drew girls good, that is, they drew hot girls. Phantom Lady
became known as one of the characters who were perverting the minds of
young children, because of all the large jutting breasts and hints of
nipplage. This, along with the blood and guts of crime and horror comics, was one of the factors that lead to the Comics Code and the censoring of mainstream comics for decades.
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