The majority of comic aficionados are familiar with Bill Ward's Torchy and Matt Baker's Phantom Lady, but "racy" female characters have been around at least since the pulp era; Spicy Detective's Sally the Sleuth being the prime example). Taking her bow in November 1934, Sally was probably the first 'lingerie detective' on the American comics scene, and had a considerable number of literary descendants during the later 40s. Her main legacy to the artform seems to have been an impressive talent for fighting crime in her underwear (a trick she appears to have learned from Norman Pett's Jane).
Created by cartoonist Adolphe Barreaux, Sally the Sleuth started off in Spicy's back pages several years before comic books became an established format. Drawn in a "primitive" but surprisingly effective style, Sally's adventures usually ran for two pages, telling an entire story in less than 15 panels. A typical plot-line consisted of Sally working undercover to solve some local gangland mystery, resulting in her being stripped down to her bra and panties when the stock villain of the month caught her snooping about.
In most cases, she was rescued by her boss, Chief Brady (occasionally her kid sidekick, Peanuts), although she was capable of holding her own when the odds weren't overwhelming. Recurring themes included abduction, white slavery, extortion etc - standard pulp scenarios providing Sally ample opportunity to have her clothes torn off by the latest lowlife racketeer. As time went on, the action (for lack of a better word) became more risque, as Sally was stripped, bound, gagged, spanked, and whipped with ever-increasing regularity.
During the war, Sally started fighting the Axis and the feature was handed over to more sophisticated illustrators. While the artwork improved, it lacked the raw sexual energy of the Barreaux years. Part of the strip's innate charm had been the bold, naive approach to the subject matter; despite the inclusion of the popular 'homefront' subtext, the stories just didn't pack the same punch anymore. Still, the sado-masochistic elements continued to multiply, and Sally was one of the very few characters you could count on to lose her clothing within two or three panels.
Sally the Sleuth Google Reader