I can’t decide whether to focus on the radness of James Robinson’s Starman series or the radness of the Phantom Lady in today’s post. Both are worthy of an entire post on their own, and I’d be doing a disservice to their radness by trying to discuss both Starman and Phantom Lady at the same time. So in an effort to have my proverbial cake and eat it, too, I will discuss Phantom Lady in prose and Starman in haiku.
Slacker with a cosmic rod
This is one of the many issues where series writer James Robinson took a detour from the Starman meta-story and focused on a tangent in the Starman Miniverse. I admire Robinson’s confidence as a storyteller and his willingness to dabble in characters and stories that interested him, even when they didn’t feed into the narrative thrust of the series, like the annual “Talking With David” issues, wherein Jack (Starman) chats with his dead brother. After a while, I found diversions like these a little tiresome, but overall I give Robinson points doing his thing.
He wrote Starman well and long
Long long time, sailor
In this particular issue, we hop in the Wayback Machine and visit Washington D.C. circa 1944, where the original Starman’s cousin The Phantom Lady is hot, and is hot on the tail of The Prairie Witch, a green-skinned criminal with a posse of masked thugs. The Phantom Lady stops the Witch’s first heist, but of course she gets away. The Phantom Lady tracks her quarry to Opal City, Starman’s turf, and eventually foils the Witch’s plans and beats the living bejeesus out of her. The end.
Sounds a little thin, storywise?
Well, yes, but Starman #44 is a contemporary take on a simple, formulaic Golden Age plot. The fun of the comic lies in Robinson’s urbane style and focus on character as well as Mike Mayhew’s solid pencils. I don’t usually mention inkers when I talk about comics, primarily because I am a philistine, but I must praise Wade Von Grawbadger’s elegant inks – they enhance Mayhew’s pencils and add a sense of lushness to the book.
David, who fought a bullet
But the bullet won
Here’s Phantom Lady (below) after mopping the floor with a bunch of thugs. The Prairie Witch has escaped, but not before calling P.L. a “tramp.” That’s mean.
Let me jump in here and say that The Phantom Lady has a seam that runs down the middle of her costume, okay? It’s not a camel toe – it’s a seam. In the forties they were not as conscious of camel toes as we are in the twenty-first century. It’s a seam, damn it. I just want to clear that up and pre-empt the inevitable discussion of the Phantom Camel Toe in the comments section.
The other Starman
Will Wheaton? No, Will Payton!
He blew up real good
Okay, having settled that, let’s talk about Phantom Lady, the prototype of modern Boob War heroines. Phantom Lady first appeared in Quality Comics fighting crime in a skimpy outfit that emphasized her, um, tits. I don’t mean to be crude, but Phantom Lady was all about the breasts, or “headlights” as they called them Back In The Day.
Phantom Lady gained a certain notoriety for incurring the wrath of Dr. Frederick Wertham in his witch-hunt against lascivious and exploitative comics. It was actually this Matt Baker cover that earned her so much attention:
Holy cats, if that’s not Boob War material, I don’t know what is.
At some point DC Comics bought the rights to the Quality Comics heroes like Phantom Lady, Blackhawk, Doll Man and incorporated them into The Freedom Fighters comic… until writer Geoff Johns had her killed in Infinite Crisis #1, which for some reason really bugged me. I mean, damn! They couldn’t have killed Doll Man?
What happened to Jack?
He quit the Society
And moved to limbo?
Back to Starman #44: The not-dead-yet Phantom Lady finally goes toe-to-toe with the Prairie Witch, who tries to escape on her broom, naturally.
Phantom Lady beats the crap out of The Prairie Witch and saves the day. Yay Phantom Lady!
At the end of the book we get a moody denouement as Starman Sr., who narrated the tale, wraps things up but dangles an enticing plot thread about a lover who wanted Phantom Lady dead.
A lover named Geoff Johns, maybe?
Waiting in the sky
Starman would like to meet us
But he’d blow our minds