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Forgotten Women of Comics #2: Phantom Lady

She wasn’t a phantom or ghost. She had no superpowers. She had no gadgets except for her trusty black ray which she used to temporarily blind her enemies. But she was resourceful, smart and determined to get to the bottom of things when it came to crime. The socialite daughter of U.S. senator Henry Knight, Sandra Knight made her first appearance in Quality comics’ Police Comics #1 wearing a yellow one piece suit with a green cape. She was sometimes assisted by her fiance, Don Borden, an agent of the U.S. State Department.

In 1946, Quality folded and Phantom Lady was given to Fox Feature Syndicate, where her popularity exploded thanks to artist Matt Baker, one of the rare black artists working in comics at the time. His depictions of women were controversial (it was referred to as “good girl art”) but they were also gorgeously drawn. See for yourself.

(Also read this piece about Matt Baker. Someone needs to make a film – or write a biography – about him.)

In fact, Baker’s art was so famous, it was included as an example in Dr. Frederic Wertham’s infamous comics critical book Seduction of the Innocent.

Another change Baker made to Sandra/Phantom Lady was her costume. It was now blue and red – and a little skimpier. But amazingly, she never wore heels, just practical flats. It was during this time that her fiance Don Borden also became – how can I put this? – more clueless about Sandra Knight’s alter ego. She never wore a mask, change her hairstyle, her voice, or her personality as Phantom Lady, yet Don could never put two and two together. Neither could her father. Nevertheless, she was famous in the city she fought crime in and, like Batman, the police department always cooperated with her. She was the talk of the town.

By the early 1950s Ajax-Ferrell Publications took over the character and changed her outfit by covering up her cleavage and her back, but she still basically had the same costume. With flat shoes. In 1956 DC Comics obtained the rights to Phantom Lady. In 1973 she became a member of the Freedom Fighters, a superhero team that lived on Earth-X  where Nazi Germany won World War 2. She is still at DC Comics today. Her alter-ego now goes by the name Stormy Knight or Jennifer Knight.

For the original Quality/Fox/Ajax printed stories, you can purchase them here at Amazon. Or see if they’re available at your local Half Price Books. That’s where I got my collection of PH stories (I own volume 2).

To learn more about Phantom Lady and other classic female superheroes read The Great Women Superheroes by Trina Robbins.

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Don’t Knock “Man of Steel” to Build Up “Wonder Woman”

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Well.

What was originally a planned review of Wonder Woman – a film I’ve already seen twice in theaters – is now a lecture about how the internet’s irritating habit of throwing shade at any franchise’s predecessors, needs to stop.

What made me decide to write this post was this article by Mikhail Lecaros from GMA News Online titled “Wonder Women: Gal Gadot’s Live Action Predecessors, From Lynda to Dawn”. The “listicle” gives a run down of actresses who donned the mantle of the Amazing Amazon before Gal Gadot, from a silly 1967 pilot starring a pre-Planet of the Apes Linda Harrison to an even sillier 2011 pilot starring Adrienne Palicki. As I scroll to the bottom, it turns into a totally different article. When discussing the beloved 2017 film, it compares it to the 1978 Superman and the current Captain America series (say what?). Then it goes into this little gem:

In an age of overwhelming uncertainty and cynicism, it is downright refreshing to see a hero up on the big screen who’s doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, and not as a result of contrived pathos or self-loathing. Seeing as the DC Extended Universe’s big-screen idea of Superman is an angst-ridden loner with a predilection for killing and collateral damage, Wonder Woman is an excellent choice to be the upcoming “Justice League’s” moral compass.

But who knows? There’s buzz that Superman’s current bout with death will see him resurrected to be more of the virtuous leader he’s usually known to be, but that seems to be more of a retroactive fix than anything else. In Gadot’s Wonder Woman, the DCEU has finally given moviegoers something we never thought we would see from this franchise: a hero we can all look up to.

Take that, Henry Cavill.

There’s so much wrong with these last two paragraphs. First of all it takes attention away from Wonder Woman and centers it on her male counterparts. Hidden sexism right there. As if a woman can’t rise through the ranks without bringing a man down. People didn’t go to see Wonder Woman in droves because they were hoping for a DC film “done right”. They went because they wanted to prove that female superhero movies can be successful. They weren’t looking for a hero to look up to – we already saw her as a hero – that’s why we wanted a Wonder Woman movie and DC delivered. Second it singles out Henry Cavill, an actor just because the author didn’t like his take on Superman. But why Henry Cavill, who had no control over the script and was only doing what he was told to do? Why not say “take that William Dozier” or “take that David E. Kelley”? Better yet, why not say “take that Marvel” who – after 15 films so far – has only one planned female superhero movie? Drop dead, I say. Why have there been three actors to play the Incredible Hulk but no She-Hulk movie? Why not Spider-Gwen: Homecoming instead of Spider-Man: Homecoming? And since Marvel left Peggy’s story in mid-air, it’s high time they give us a third season in the form of an Agent Carter movie.

 Say what you will about the DCEU, but at least their Wonder Woman movie was their fourth entry and there are rumors of a Wonder Woman sequel, a Batgirl movie and a Gotham City Sirens movie which has Margot Robbie reprising her role of Harley Quinn. I’ll take this moment to also point out that despite having a male lead, Man of Steel treated its female characters a lot better than most superhero movies:

  • Throughout the film, 15 women appeared on the screen with at least one speaking line.
  • Both of Superman’s mothers outlive his fathers and both have a scene where they stand up to the villain(s). Let’s also not forget “YOU THINK YOU CAN THREATEN MY MOTHER?!”
  • Not one female character is subject to the male gaze yet Superman was subject to the female gaze twice: when Faora gave him the roving eye and when a women soldier said “I just think he’s kinda hot”.
  • The only female character that was subject to the male gaze was a victim of sexual harassment – and Clark came to her defense (I had to smile when that sexual harasser walked out of the bar and found his big rig destroyed – HA!).
  • For the first time Lois Lane wears pants on the job instead of a skirt – ’nuff said.
  • Speaking of Lois, she’s the one who learns from Jor-El how to escape from Zod’s ship, how to turn off the Kryptonian world engine (or whatever it was called) and she bravely volunteers to join Superman on Zod’s ship. She’s also the first human outside of Clark’s family to accept him for who he is and unlike previous Lois Lanes she already knows Clark and Superman are one and the same.
  • Zod’s right hand “man” Faora wears armor instead of a tight jumpsuit and there’s no hint of a sexual relationship between her and Zod.
  • According to this postMan of Steel had the highest female audience demo.

Now why do I point this out? Because it was these feminist moments in MOS that made me confident that DC and Warner Bros. could pull of a successful, feminist Wonder Woman movie and if it wasn’t for the success of Man of Steel, we wouldn’t have gotten Wonder Woman. If Man of Steel had failed at the box office, DC and Warner Bros. would’ve never had the confidence to go forward with a planned movie universe and we’d still have to wait to see Diana’s story on the big screen.

Now here’s the third problem with Mr. Lecaros’ article: he singles out MOS as an example of “uncertainty and cynicism”. Hasn’t he ever heard of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy? Or Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Or Logan? Weren’t these films also uncertain and cynical? Weren’t these films also about angst-ridden loners with a predilection for killing and destruction (I don’t know which film he saw but Superman was nothing like that in Man of Steel. Your describing General Zod, honey.)  Or do they get a free pass because they received high scores on Rotten Tomatoes? Why is Batman allowed to evolve from a batusi dancing good citizen to a brooding loner still moping over his dead parents? Why can Captain America get away with being such a sad sack? Why is Aquaman cool all of a sudden because now he’s some beer guzzling biker dude? Even the new Wonder Woman is tougher and hardened (at least by the end of the movie) than her ’70s predecessor. But Superman can’t do a little soul searching? He has to be some happy go lucky goody-two shoes stuck in the ’50s or ’70s?

Despite being lighter and softer than its forebears, Wonder Woman was still a serious film. It did not hold back from showing the audience the horrors of World War 1. It showed gas poisoning, wounded soldiers with missing limbs, a character suffering from shell shock, a whole village bombed to death, horses getting whipped, people starving, refugees. And (spoilers!) a character blows himself up in a Zeppelin-Staaken R. VI. When I first saw the film, I walked out of the theater feeling a little depressed by what I saw, not because the film was depressing but because WW1 is a depressing subject. I read a lot of books about World War 1 and let me tell you I can feel the turmoil jumping off the pages.

Now I’m not saying you have to like Man of Steel. In conclusion I’m saying this: judge Diana’s movie on Diana’s merits. Don’t give in to hate and haughtiness and throw shade at her male cohorts. Just enjoy the movie and be glad she’s finally on the big screen.

Take that, haters.

 

 

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In Memoriam: Adam West 1928-2017

A sad day for comic book fans. Adam West, 60s icon and our original Batman, succumbed to Leukemia on June 9th and I found out on Twitter late Saturday, June 10th. Batman has always been a part of my life. I would occasionally see reruns on television as a kid, thinking it was a straight up action show, unaware of the camp factor. Then it came back into my life when in 2002 TV Land added it to its schedule by airing a “Batmanathon” hosted by Adam West himself.  Last year, I was able to buy all three seasons – digitally remastered – on DVD.

Batman was not Batman without Adam West. The man knew how to deliver campy lines with a straight face, but not take the role too seriously. Can you imagine any one else in that role doing the same thing? I can’t. Maybe it helped that he had that distinctive voice which helped him land voice over roles in his later years. Just yesterday, I watched “Beware the Gray Ghost”, an episode of Batman: The Animated Series in which West lent his voice to the character of Simon Trent, a washed up actor who portrayed a childhood hero of Bruce Wayne’s, The Gray Ghost, and helps Batman catch a serial bomber. It’s one of the most touching episodes of the series as it shows Batman helping a down on his luck actor come to the realization that his role as the Gray Ghost wasn’t a waste but an inspiration to others. It was also art imitating life as for years West found it hard to find roles due to being typecast as Batman. But those that grew up watching Batman in the 1960s never forgot the Batmania that swept the country and turned Adam West and Burt Ward into superstars. Despite disappointment from some die-hard fans than the series betrayed the comic’s more serious roots, some (myself included) are finding the series to be a breath of fresh air in an age of a dire, gloomy Dark Knights. You can keep your Keatons, your Bales, your Kilmers and your Afflecks, Adam West … is … Batman and I’m sad that I never got to meet him. But he will live on in the roles he played on television and on Thursday, June 15th, the Mayor of Los Angeles will light a Bat-Signal in honor of West.

In the meantime, let’s list some of the most memorable (and hilarious) quotes uttered by the Caped Crusader:

“I’ll stand at the bar. I shouldn’t wish to attract attention.” – Hi Diddle Riddle 

“What a terrible way to go-go.” – Smack in the Middle

“If you can’t trust Santa, then who can you trust?” – I’m not sure which episode this one comes from but it was one of the famous “window cameos”.

“I’d like to think that it’s because our hearts are pure.” – Or this one but it’s more than likely a Catwoman (Julie Newmar) episode.

“Boys and girls, go back to your studies. Believe me, nothing in life is free!” – The Joker Goes to School

“Bartender, a bit of advice. Always inspect a jukebox carefully. These machines can be deadly.” – He Meets His Match, the Grisly Ghoul

“Another trap! And I intend to walk right into it.” – The Bookworm Turns

“Batman to Gotham City police, Batman to Gotham City police! Red alert, red alert! We are trapped inside a cookbook at 5th & Cedar!” – While Gotham City Burns

“It fits like my glove!” – Death in Slow Motion

“You owe your life to dental hygiene.” – The Riddler’s False Notion

“Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!” – Batman the Movie

“Man cannot live by crime-fighting alone.” – Batman’s Waterloo

Goodnight and Godbless Mr. West. We will never forget you.

 

 

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Forgotten Women of Comics #1: Moon Girl

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Ask any average person on the street to name a woman superhero or female comic book character and most people will choose Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Catwoman, Lois Lane or Betty and Veronica. Many have argued about the lack of prominent supersheroes in comics and point out that Wonder Woman is the only supershero that wasn’t a sidekick, relative, love interest or spinoff of a male superhero.

But that wasn’t the case nearly 80 years ago. Wonder Woman was just one of the many heroic female characters that excited readers – both male and female – back when America was trudging through the Great Depression, coping with the harsh realities of war and struggling with putting the country back together afterwards. Possibly inspired by the jobs women were taking up to help the war effort, publishing companies that specialized in comics came out with titles chronicling the adventures of lady heroes like The Lady in Red, Miss Fury, the Spider Widow, Pat Patriot, Miss Victory, et al; women who donned costumes to fight crime and corruption when needed. Some of those women had superpowers. Wonder Woman was among them and so was Moon Girl.

In 1947 publisher Max Gaines of EC Comics created a character that was similar to Princess Diana in many ways. She was the daughter of the queen of the fictional city of Samarkand, a matriarchy not unlike Wonder Woman’s Themyscira. However, unlike Themyscira, men were allowed to visit Samarkand and one man in particular, Prince Mengu, falls in love with Moon Girl. At first Moon Girl wants nothing to do with the prince but her mother tells her: “It is decreed that the man who takes you for his wife must first prove his superior strength!” Nevertheless the Queen gives her a necklace made of moonstone. “Once you wear the moonstone, no man will be your master!”

With the moonstone around her neck, Moon Girl easily beats Prince Mengu in a contest and the defeated prince leaves. Realizing that she actually loves him, she leaves Samarkand in search of him only to find that he’s moved to America and is working as a college coach. By now you can guess what happens next. In America, Moon Girl beats the prince in a shotputting match (thanks to the moonstone) and he realizes who she really is. But instead of getting married and living happily ever after, the couple decides to stay in the United States to fight crime. Moon Girl adopts the identity of Clair Lune and becomes a teacher.

Moon Girl and the Prince (its real title) lasted for 12 issues. Sadly, the writers didn’t know what to do with the character and the series evolved from a superhero genre to a romance comic (A Moon, A Girl…Romance) to disappearing entirely.

Until now.

Whilst browsing in a local comic book shop, I came upon a reprint of Moon Girl #3 and bought it. The comic was reprinted by Canton Street Press under their Flashback Replica Series, which are:

…exact reproductions of historically significant or key comic books from the 1940s and 1950s. Each page is fully restored with careful attention to line, work and colors. All editorial and ad pages are included. Collect the entire series!

The series includes Moon Girl #1-7. No. 3 has four stories: “Rockets For Riches”, “Sky Sabotage”, “The Spirit of Kokama” and “Moon Girl…Wanted for Murder”. The first story pits Moon Girl against the evil, emerald clad she-devil Satana, who is launching rockets at cities. The second story involves Moon Girl salvaging a pilot’s reputation. The third story brings Moon Girl back to her hometown of Samarkand to rescue her mother from the clutches of the traitorous Ka-zhan and the fourth story speaks for itself. I enjoyed reading these stories and look forward to collecting the other MG titles in CSP’s Flashback Replica Series. If your interested in buying and reading the adventures of Moon Girl, here’s Canton Street Press’s official site.

For more information about Moon Girl, see The Great Women Superheroes, written by Trina Robbins. Sadly out of print but still available to buy from Amazon! Stayed tuned for the next entry in my Forgotten Women of Comics. Who will it be???

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Great Cat Moments In SF & F History

October 29 was National Cat Day! I love cats. On Planet X, I celebrate National Cat Day by putting together a list of the furriest, most purrrfffect characters, stories and moments in my other love – science fiction! Because, believe it or not, cats and sci-fi go together like wet food and a ball of yarn. So, without further ado, in no particular order, here’re the best feline moments in sci-fi.

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Jonesy (Alien)

Ripley was the last survivor of the Nostromo right? Wrong! She had company. Jones (or Jonesy) the ship’s cat also successfully escaped the alien’s clutches. His most memorable moment was when Brett, the ship’s engineer, tries to call Jones to him but Jones is too distracted by the thing that’s slowly creeping down from the ceiling behind Brett. The camera switches from the alien snatching Brett to a closeup of Jonesy’s face. The 1979 film ends with Jonesy relaxing on Ripley’s lap as she gives her final report before going into stasis.

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Isis the Cat

Does it surprise you that Spock has an affinity for cats? Me neither. The last episode of Star Trek‘s second season, “Assignment: Earth”, has the Enterprise traveling to the past to research Earth’s history only to discover a mysterious man with a cat has energized aboard the ship. That man is agent Gary Seven, a human raised on another planet who’s mission is to travel through time to prevent other agents from altering Earth’s history. His constant companion is a cat named Isis who possessed the ability to take on a human form and to communicate telepathically. Originally “Assignment: Earth” was intended to be a backdoor pilot to a spinoff series about Gary Seven, his cat, Isis and his assistant Roberta Lincoln but it never got off the ground. However, their further adventures are told in the Gary Cox duology The Eugenics Wars.

ThunderCats

If your a child of the eighties like me, chances are you may remember watching this show at some point. Created by the ironically named Ted “Tobin” Wolf and airing from 1985 to 1989, ThunderCats revolved around a group of feline humanoid aliens – each resembling a species of wild cat – fleeing their doomed planet Thundera and. The group consisted of central protagonist Lion-O, Cheetara, Snarf, Tygra, Panthro, and the siblings WilyKit and WilyKat as they fight the Mutants of Plun-Darr and adjust to their new lives on Third Earth. As you may have guessed, there was a toy line.

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Cringer/Battle Cat

Lion-O and the gang weren’t the only cats to rule the airwaves. The wildly popular He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983-1985) had Prince Adam/He-Man’s faithful pet/steed Cringer, a green and orange tiger who was a scaredy-cat (literally) and could turn into a fierce, bridled tiger with the help of He-Man’s sword. He also was immortalized in toy form.

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Catwoman

Next to Wonder Woman, DC’s Catwoman (Selena Kyle) is one of comics most recognizable and inspirational characters – even if her reputation is unsavory. She’s been around since 1940 and is still going strong. She’s been portrayed by Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether, Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfeiffer, Halle Berry, Anne Hathaway and Carmen Bicondova. She’s also been voiced by Adrienne Barbeau, Grey DeLisle, Eliza Dushku and others. IGN ranked her at number 11 on their “Top 100 Comic Book Villains of All Time” list.

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Catman

Not to be outdone is DC’s other “cat burglar” Catman, who was really Thomas Blake, a hunter turned criminal who often went cowl to cowl with Batman. Like his more famous female counterpart, he’s been retconned into an anti-hero involved with the Secret Six. Under the pen of Gail Simone, Catman has gained more recognition.

Cat People (1942)

Considered to be the definitive Val Lewton film, this horror classic tells the story of a young Serbian woman’s fear that she will turn into a deadly black panther if she’s ever sexually aroused or angered. Her fears come true when she falls in love with an American man… The film is famous for its low budget and its cinematography.

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The Cat Returns (2002)

From Studio Ghibli comes a coming-of-age tale about a teenage girl named Haru who finds herself in a “cat kingdom” as the unwilling bride-to-be for their prince. It up to the dashing Baron von Gikkingen, his aide Muta and a bird named Toto to infiltrate the palace of the Cat King and free Haru. The English dub of this Japanese film included the voices of Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes, Peter Boyle and Tim Curry.

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Dinah and the Cheshire Cat

How could I leave Alice in Wonderland off this list? It boasts two iconic cats: Alice’s cherished cat, Dinah (who acts as a beacon of hope to the lost, confused Alice) and of course, the Cheshire Cat, who has all the best lines in the book. Dinah was based on the Liddell’s family’s (who were close friends of Lewis Carroll) tabby cat while the Cheshire Cat is based on the expression “to grin like a Cheshire cat.” Cheshire was also Carroll’s birthplace.

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Aslan, Son of the Emperor-Over-the-Sea

The creator and king of Narnia. He is a alternative version of Jesus Christ and is the only character to appear in all seven books of the Narnia series. He’s loved by all Narnians and feared by all his enemies. He is not a tame lion.

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Tailchaser’s Song

I haven’t read this 1985 book by Tad Williams but I remember an illustration of a Toothguard by Wayne Barlowe. Anyway Fritti Tailchaser is a sentient feral cat who sets out on a quest to find a missing friend. Rumor has it, there will be an animated adaptation in 2018 (CGI unfortunately).

To Visit the Queen

A 1998 steampunk  time traveling adventure by Diane Duane in which an evil entity travels to Victorian England to introduce nuclear weapons (ahead of schedule) to the British Empire and assassinate Queen Victoria along the way. It’s up to four cat “wizards”, their dinosaur ally, and a young Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to stop “The Lone Power” from destroying the world.

Muuurgh the Togorian

A character that appears in A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo Trilogy, Muuurgh was a feline humanoid that was assigned as Han Solo bodyguard on the planet Ylesia. In reality Muuurgh was looking for his mate-to-be Mrrov, who had gotten tangled up with a shady cult. Muuurgh and Han Solo become good friends (remember, this is before Han met Chewbacca) and help free Mrrov and other members from the clutches of the “cult”. Han later serves as Muuurgh’s best man at Muuurgh and Mrrov’s wedding and the happy couple become parents to three kits.

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Spot the cat

Data the android always wanted to learn what it was like to be human. One of those ways was to own a pet, which turned out to be his cat, Spot, who was an orange tabby. Spot appeared in many episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Data loved her dearly.

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The Catfantastic Series

Rowwrrr! How could I have forgotten this on my list. A collection of fantasy stories about Man’s Best Friend (admit it) edited by Andre Norton and Martin H. Greenberg. The first book was published in 1989 and it’s fourth and final sequel was published in 2009.

Meow! Agree with my list. What other cat related titles, characters and stories have I missed. Sound off in the comments and maybe I’ll add them.

For an added bonus, here’s some pictures of your favorite SF/F authors with their felines.

Ursula K. LeGuin

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Philip K. Dick

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Ray Bradbury

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Neil Gaiman

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Stephen King

Stephen King

 

 

 

 

 

 

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