The Woman in Red (WIR) was really police officer Peggy Allen. Disgusted after seeing how criminals were getting away from normal law enforcement she decided to do something about it. Thus becoming The Woman in Red.
Peggy’s usual method was to investigate first where the crime was taking place. She did this by taking a role that would let her blend in, such as a student, nurse, or actress. After gathering the clues she needed she would strike as the Woman in Red.
WIR had no special powers or training but was a very good actress, investigator, an excellent shot with her .45 automatic, and was ok in a fight. She tended to struggle when unarmed and often even when armed against many opponents. Often going from one peril to the next all within a short 5-6 page adventure. Usually her detective skills and the help of allies helped her win the day.
The WIR first appearance in the comic book Thrilling Comics #2. This comic came out one month after Fantomah appeared in Jungle Comics #2. This would not make the WIR the first female crime fighter, but most defiantly one of the first female crime fighters. It is because Fantomah transformed herself into a blue woman with a skull face that the WIR is considered to be the first female "Masked" superhero.
Besides, it is always stated correctly that she came before Wonder Woman but Wonder Woman didn't wear a mask either.
Originally produced by Nedor Comics the WIR is a golden age hero and has become public domain due to copyright and trademark laws. It is for this reason that the WIR has been written about by other comic companies like AC Comics, America's Best Comics, and Dynamite Entertainment. These new stories stick with most of her Golden Aged origins but some make small changes. Most Golden aged origins are kept when a comic company tries to revive a character but then branch out in different ways from that point like a fork.
So, the characters all have a very similar or exact origin story but a completely different career from their counterparts who are written about in the other comic companies.
Due to the WIR going into public domain she has evolved into several different versions of the character.
In Thrilling Comics and Americas Best Comics (Golden Age Version)
The Woman in Red in the Golden Age had a very distinct personality during her time Under Nedor.
There could be considered two distinct versions of the Woman In Red as she appeared in Thrilling Comics and Americas Best Comics 1-2. They are a Strong to VERY Strong Era which didn't last very long, and her Weak State Era, which would be the vast majority of her appearances. There are commonalities with both eras of the Woman In Red such as her relations with the Police overall, With Detective Cavanaugh and the Chief, also her ability to swing around like Tarzan and shoot straight.
In her strong state, the Woman in Red is a no-nonsense Costumed Detective. Although she has a terrible relationship with most uniformed Police officers and Detective Cavanaugh, she is on good terms with the Chief of Police. The WIR is very tough in this form, although not very athletic she is not afraid to confront her foes directly. She is tougher, stronger, faster, very aware of her surroundings making her hard to sneak up on. She is a much better shot than in her Weak State, easily capable of shooting to wound or kill. She depends less on her gun in this form and uses her environment to even the odds. Although sometimes outnumbered and overpowered. She quickly recovers and is able to track down her foes for retaliation. Her Detective skills are top notch and she's quick to gather clues and make connections. Her Rival Detective Cavanaugh, often interfered at his own risk many times, often bungling her adventures. This Era of the Woman in Red didn't last very long. It came back towards the end of her run, where she even got a short skirt and cape for a costume, losing the long flowing cloak. She more resembled characters like Miss Masque and Phantom Lady. She was even tougher during these last couple of issues. Essentially a different character.
This version of the Woman in Red was nowhere as tough or strong as the Strong Stae version. She was weaker physically, lacking toughness, speed, strength, and was easily ambushed. She was also a sub-par physical combatant. She was on far better terms with the Police department even her rival Cavanaugh, which proved to be beneficial, as she was often saved by him. She was a decent Detective here but took longer to gather her clues which often led to more peril for her. Even in a few short pages, The Woman In Red was in peril often. She struggled against even the average mook let alone their Bosses. She had a knack for being knocked out at an alarming rate. Often recovering too late to save the victim or very nearly herself. Luck was with her often.
Since she also had a habit of being tossed from high places, there seemed to be a lot of Luck over Skill in terms of her survival, much like Rulah The Jungle Goddess. There was always a Gable, Rope, Pipe, or Bush to save her from Death. Many of which would be implausible in reality. In this mode she relied on her gun far more often than her fists, even then it was taken from her frequently. This version of the WIR is close to the version used by AC Comics. Where she is a relatively minor character, and often teamed with other Gun toting heroes and often in peril or the losing end of a fight.
In America's Best Comics
the WIR finds an unusual ruby crystal that gives her the powers of flight and the ability to shoot energy blasts. She, unfortunately, finds out that it also changes her skin to a ruby color as well. In a sense become the Red Woman instead of the Woman in Red. Embarrassed by the change in her skin pigmentation she hides her skin as much as possible with clothes. She eventually becomes comfortable with her new look and decides to be comfortable in her own skin. She even ends up wearing a bathing suit style costume revealing even more skin.
The WIR along with many other heroes become a part of a program where they are placed in suspended animation for thirty years in 1969. They are released by Tom Strong and have to deal with the new environment around them.
The Woman in Red appeared in several comics published by AC Comics as a member of the Sentinels of Liberty. She made an appearance in the short-lived Fighting Yank comic, where she was overpowered and knocked out by the villainess Titanica, who stole her costume to use as a disguise. The real Woman In Red was later discovered bound and gagged in a broom closet.
WIR also appeared in several issues of FemForce. This version of the Woman In Red is very closely matched to the Weak State version of the 40's under Nedor Publishing.
Dynamite Entertainment Comics
In Dynamite Entertainment Comics the WIR is relatively unchanged from her original conception. She is however trapped in the Urn of Pandora by a misguided Fighting Yank and released about sixty years later. She also has to struggle with a world that has changed just as her counterpart in America's Best Comics.
In this new time, she is teamed up with similar heroes known as the Scarlet Sisters. Among them are the Woman In Red, Lady Satan, and Masquerade A.K.A. Miss Masque
Skills and Abilities:
Nedor Publishing Version: This version of the Woman In Red was costumed but nonpowered Superheroine. Relying far more on her Detective Skills which in Comics terms was rare. As she put together her clues rather than rely on Intuition. She also had a knack for surviving by carrying small tools for escaping and swing on things like Chandeliers and Ropes. Which saved her on MANY occasions.
Depending on the version she was also a better or worse Combatant.
The Strong State Version was remarkably tough and capable of taking down men bigger than her. Even if stunned, she would recover quickly. She was also a remarkable shot with her firearm.
The Weak State version was a very poor combatant, physically weaker, dependent on her Gun, and the help of others to make it through a case. She is all too often overpowered and taken down by even the average crook. Her marksmanship was slightly worse than the Strong State version.
Public Domain status:
The Woman in Red is a public domain character and thus there are several versions of her out there. Many stick with the original origin of the character, then deviate from her original version. There are Role-playing game versions, fan-created versions, etc. All versions are valid as they rest in the public domain.