Tag Archives: vagabond prince

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?

Vagabond Prince, “The Madness of Doctor Altu”

Simon and Kirby Blog
Black Cat #8 (November 1947) “The Madness of Doctor Altu” page 3, art by Joe Simon

As I mentioned in a previous Vagabond Prince post (“Trapped on Wax“) the origin story was meant for Boy Explorers #2 issue but not published. Joe Simon drew two other Vagabond Prince stories. It may seem odd that Joe would produce stories that were not meant to be published for another four months (Boy Explorers was a bimonthly) but Joe was not the only artist doing that.

Jack Kirby drew three Stuntman stories that were never published. Each started with a double page splash. Such wide splashes were only used as the centerfold of the comic so this meant that Jack had drawn the stories for six months after what turned out to be the last Stuntman. Two of the splashes were completely inked while the spotting had not been finished on the third. The outlines of all three stories were inked but without any spotting. Because the inking was never finished none of these stories were ever published. Titan’s upcoming Simon and Kirby Superheroes volume will publish one of them for the first time.

Bill Draut was another artist that produced stories ahead of publication. Draut drew four Red Demon stories none of which were published in either Stuntman or Boy Explorers. That has led me to believe that there might have been a third intended Simon and Kirby title that got cancelled before it was even launched (Bill Draut’s Demon). The Red Demon was published later in Black Cat Comics but the fact that the origin story was the third published shows that the stories were inventory and not originally created for that title.

Harvey Comic’s lack of concern with the original order of the inventoried stories shows up with Vagabond Prince as well. The second story, “The Madness of Doctor Altu” ended up being the last one published. It is clear that the Doctor Altu story was meant for Boy Explorers #3 because it was announced as such at the end of the “Trapped on Wax” story (which should have appeared in Boy Explorers #2).

Joe purposely adopted Jack Kirby’s art style in the Vagabond Prince. None of them were signed, but if they had been I am sure it would have been with a Simon and Kirby signature. After all that is what Joe did for some Boy Commando stories that he did while in the Coast Guard and it is also what Jack did when he returned from military service before Joe did. Of course Joe could not perfectly adopt Jack’s style; no one could handle perspective or a fight sequences quite like Kirby. Still “The Madness of Doctor Altu” has some superb art. Note the dramatic perspective Joe uses in the first panel from page 3. And while Simon may not been quite as good as Kirby, Joe still can provides some great fight scenes. One fight scene was even swiped by Jack Kirby many years later (Kirby Swipes from Simon) a rare instance of Jack swiping from another comic book artist.

It is not just the art that makes Vagabond Prince such a great feature, it is also the story. Joe’s plot for the Doctor Altu story takes an unusual twist concerning the man saved by the heroes at the start of the story. I will forego being more explicit for fear of spoiling it for any my readers that have not yet read the story, but fear not it will also be included in Titan’s upcoming Simon and Kirby Superheroes. Like “Trapped on Wax”, this plot concerns the Vagabond Prince protection of the poor. It is an example of the cultural wars between the elite and the downtrodden, although appropriately exaggerated for use in a comic.

Doctor Altu is an example of a long haired villain by Simon and Kirby. I previously posted about another one, Professor Enric Zagnar from a Vision story (Featured Story, The Vision from Marvel Mystery #25). Marty Erhart commented about two others: the Fiddler from “Horror Plays the Scales” (The Wide Angle Scream, Captain America #7) and Mister Goodly the warden from Star Spangled #11 (The Beginnings of the Newsboy Legion). I wonder if the post-Beatle generations can truly appreciate the antagonism that most American’s at that time felt about men with such hair. Calling someone a “long haired intellectual” was by no means a compliment.

Next week the final Vagabond Prince story, “Death-Trap De Luxe”.

Vagabond Prince, “Trapped On Wax”

Trapped on Wax
“Trapped on Wax”, art by Joe Simon

Just about everything Simon and Kirby produced was great stuff but I am sure most fans have their favorites. Previously the only superhero work I included among my favorite Simon and Kirby productions was Fighting American. Well that has changed as I now add Vagabond Prince. There are only three Vagabond Prince stories and they were all drawn by Joe Simon. Even Joe admits he is not as good an artist as Jack Kirby, but I like Joe’s art and there are other aspects of the characters he created and the stories he wrote that makes Vagabond Prince so appealing to me.

Trapped On Wax
“Trapped on Wax” page 7 panel 1, art by Joe Simon with touch-up by Jack Kirby

The origin story for the Vagabond Prince, “Trapped on Wax”, has never been published in its entirety. The marking on the artwork shows that the story was initially meant for Boy Explorers #2. However that title was abruptly cancelled (as was its companion title Stuntman) because of the flood of new comic titles that occurred after paper rationing was lifted so that many of the titles never even made it into the actual newsstands racks. Harvey issued a black ink only version of Boy Explorers #2 for subscribers but that was not only much reduced in size but also in the amount of content. Not only did Vagabond Prince fail to be included in the small Boy Explorers #2 but it was never later printed in Green Hornet, Joe Palooka and Black Cat comics like most of the art left over from the cancelled Stuntman and Boy Explorers. The reason “Trapped on Wax” was not printed later was because the art was not finished. Initially the entire story was completely inked but apparently some sections were unsatisfactory. The art was done on two ply illustration board. The term “two ply” refers to the fact that there are actually two layers of surfaces suitable for use. A razor was used to cut around the parts that needed changing and the first ply was carefully pealed off. The newly exposed second ply was penciled and the outlines inked, however the full spotting was never done. You can see the results of one such unfinished correction in a panel from page 7 shown above. Observe the simple outline of the man standing in the background. Although the man of the right, the hero, was fully spotted some additional changes were being done, in this case by Jack Kirby. I wrote about this and some other changes in one of my earliest blog posts (Simon and Kirby as Editors). Because the art for “Trapped on Wax” was not finished it was still in Simon and Kirby’s possession. Joe has said to me that material published in Green Hornet, Joe Palooka and Black Cat was used without their permission. Even though only comparitively little effort would have been needed to complete “Trapped on Wax”, Simon and Kirby never would finish it.

Having escaped publication by Harvey Comics, “Trapped on Wax” was included in “Simon & Kirby Classics published by Pure Imagination in 1987. Only at that point page 9 was missing. Joe wrote a new script for the missing page and Jack penciled new art; this would be the last Simon and Kirby collaboration. This was an interesting approach to provide a complete story but since the new page was done 40 years after the original work it was not a completely satisfactory arrangement. Fortunately in the meantime someone had sent Joe a printout of the original art for the missing page 9 and Titan will be publishing the complete story for the first time in the upcoming Simon and Kirby Superheroes volume.

Humor was an important component of all of Simon and Kirby’s superhero work. However the humor was generally not directed at the hero until Joe and Jack did Fighting American (Fighting With Humor). For instance most of the humor in Stuntman was at the expense of Fred Drake (who might be described as an unknowing sidekick for Stuntman). But in Vagabond Prince the hero, Ned Oaks, is often made fun of. Not only does he make a living writing outrageously bad poetry but he sometimes seems quite clueless, as can be seen when the villains of “Trapped on Wax” first meet him:

Ned Oaks: Gentlemen, I welcome you to my domicile as a flower would great a gentle ray of sun!

Henchmen thinking: Zowie! He’s buggy all right!

Even his sidekick considers Ned Oaks a little nutty. Considering the humor I cannot help but wonder if the Vagabond Prince’s costume was purposely a little goofy.

One of the unique characteristics of the hero for Vagabond Prince is that he actually is rather poor. In “Trapped on Wax” we find him living in a run down cottage. In later stories we will see him residing in a tenement. Not only is Ned Oaks poor, but the people he defends in the stories are generally poor as well.

Next week, “The Madness of Doctor Altu”