Vagabond Prince, “Death-Trap De Luxe”

Black Cat #7
Black Cat #7 (September 1947) “Death-Trap De Luxe” page 2, art by Joe Simon

The last created Vagabond Prince story, “Death-Trap De Luxe”, ended up being the first one published. Thus readers would have had no idea what brought the Vagabond Prince and his two companions together to fight crime. Actually even if the reader had been familiar with the other two stories he still would have no idea where the Jester came from. This is the only appearance of this character but the story treats him as if there was nothing particularly unusual about his presence.

Neither the story nor the art is quite as good in “Death-Trap De Luxe” compared to the other two Vagabond Prince stories, but it still is well worth reading. In this case Vagabond Prince’s adversary is an unscrupulous capitalist car maker. Of course the plot is completely exaggerated for use in a comic book. After all no car manufacturer in those days, or today, would ever put profit above public safety. You can tell the car make in this story is especially evil, he provides his cat with live birds!

The Vagabond Prince stories suffer from some of the defects of golden age comics, or for that matter the superhero genre from any period. The concept that a hero can routinely come across crime is a bit of a stretch. Nor is it easy to accept that clues can be so conveniently found and would so easily be used to track down the criminals. However these improbable plot devices must be accepted by the reader of superhero comics or the stories would never proceed at a fast enough pace. And Joe’s Vagabond Prince stories, like all Simon and Kirby productions, do move at an enjoyable pace. What makes Vagabond Prince stories special for me is how the hero comes from the poor to defend them against the financial and cultural elite. Sure the stories are a bit over the top, but that is not only an acceptable characteristics for comics it is actually desirable.

Besides the Vagabond Prince, Joe Simon also created and drew five Duke of Broadway and three Kid Adonis stories (one of which has never been printed). Therefore this relatively brief period was Joe’s most productive as a comic book penciler. One wonders how comic book history would have played out if the Stuntman and Boy Explorers Comics had somehow made it into more newspaper stands racks. Would Simon have continued penciling more stories? Would there have been romance comics?