I have always considered myself privileged to have been born at the time that I was, as it made me 10 years old at the height of the Silver Age of Comics I was astounded by the voluminous smorgasbord of funnybooks that I found at the newsstand and in awe of the number of characters and titles that were at my fingertips. Little did I know then, that a generation before me my options would have been exponentially greater. In the late 30’s and early 40’s it seemed as if every magazine publisher in America had complemented their offerings with a line of 4-color delights. And each outfit seemed to include an array of costumed do-gooders in their pages. That milieu was further broadened by the inclusion of a heroine or two.
My birth date makes me an outsider to the happenings of the Golden Age of comics, but culturally speaking the concept of female super-characters seems a bit subversive. In this era the American mindset would have subscribed to the stereotype that men are aggressive and women passive. Although domestic violence existed, we prided ourselves in believing that ‘boys don’t hit girls’ and that ‘girls don’t fight’. Since physical conflict is at the heart of superhero stories, these contradicting ideas seem odd. Well despite my 21st Century perspective, the lady hero strips existed in abundance. I intend for this to be an ongoing examination of strips featuring female protagonists
To open up the proceedings, I’d like to feature the Phantom Lady. It was a strip that found life at more than one publishing house. Her initial appearance occurred in Quality`s POLICE COMICS #1 (Aug 1941) and was drawn by Arthur Peddy as a product of the Eisner and Iger studio.
The Phantom Lady was part of an archetype that I call “lady Batman”. That is a woman in costume, without any extraordinary abilities who used her smarts, cunning and athletic abilities to thwart evil-doers. Phantom Lady is not provided with an origin but like Batman she maintains her vigilantism by virtue of being a rich heiress. Most astounding to the modern reader is the fact that she makes no attempt to hide or disguise her face she simply dons a cape and skimpy outfit that shows off plenty of leg.
Quality dropped the strip in 1943, but in 1947, when Fox comics was looking for a sexy costumed adventuress, Iger offered the rights to them. The character was redesigned for it’s new home and it is the Fox version that is most familiar to comics fans. The appeal can largely be attributed to the extraordinary artistic abilities of Matt Baker.
Today, I’m presenting material from the Quality days. At the end of 1942 the strip was briefly turned over to a young Joe Kubert. Joe is one of the most acclaimed cartoonists in comics, but has never been cited as proponent of what’s called ‘good girl art’. So it’s surprising to me that under his watch, Phantom Lady takes on a more saucy allure than when she was done by Peddy. He also added the missing element from first year and a half; a mask! It’s quite distinctive, almost as if it’s colored sheet of paper with eyeholes. After Kubert left, the character once again went unmasked. Here are two stories from the Kubert run.