Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Curiously Familiar #3: The Phantom Lady and the Blue Bulleteer

Today we continue "Curiously Familiar," a series of posts where I'll be casting some light on various comic book characters who turned up at at least two different publishers, but wore a different name at each one. This is not the same as characters who were created in homage - in this instances, the two characters were actually intended to be the same entities. Makes sense?

Dressed in a flimsy outfit, Sandra Knight waged war on crime in the 1940s with her black-light projector device and the identity of the Phantom Lady.

Dressed in a flimsy outfit, Laura Wright waged war on crime in the 1940s with her twin pistols and the identity of the Blue Bulleteer.

The Story Behind the Story: On the surface, these two would seem to have nothing in common - but scratch the surface and you find a story more interesting than any either has ever appeared in. The Phantom Lady debuted at Quality Comics in yellow outfit and, like most non-Jack Cole Quality characters, wasn't that memorable. However, Quality sold her off to Fox, where she fell into the warm embrace of Matt Baker, whose sexed-up blue & red Phantom Lady became one of the most notorious "good girl" heroines of the 40s! After Fox the character wound up at a few other publishers, but her brand of cheesecake couldn't survive the Comics Code. However, Quality later sold their properties to DC Comics... and somehow convinced them that Phantom Lady was still theirs to sell.

Now, enter Bill Black, a fanzine publisher and "good girl" enthusiast. Believing Matt Baker's Phantom Lady to be in the public domain, he began releasing his own Phantom Lady comics (often, however, lacking the restraint of Baker when it came to nudity). As Black's comics went from the fan pages to professional productions, DC finally had the presence of mind to object; thus, Black salvaged the character by renaming her Blue Bulleteer and further modifying Baker's costume (notably by the addition of a mask) even though DC didn't own the Baker iteration. He also developed the character Nightveil to serve as Blue Bulleteer's present-day counterpart and gave her a costume and power set which pretty neatly removed any lingering connection to the Phantom Lady.

And thus it stands: DC Comics owns the unpopular version of Phantom Lady and occasionally press her into service to stand around in crowd scenes or get killed; within any 10 year span, Black has likely made more use of the popular version of Phantom Lady than the property's entire DC Comics history. And now thanks to the wonders of the internet, we can all enjoy the public domain Phantom Lady for free! Thanks for buying the wrong property, DC!

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