Vault (comics)

The Vault
First appearance Avengers Annual #15 (1986)
Publisher Marvel Comics

The Vault is the widely used nickname in Marvel Comics of a fictional defunct prison facility for technological-based superhuman criminals (predominantly supervillains). The prison's full official name is the United States Maximum Security Installation for the Incarceration of Superhuman Criminals.

It first appeared in Avengers Annual #15 (1986). It ceased being used after the facility was destroyed in Heroes for Hire #1 (February 1997), although the facility still occasionally appears in flashbacks in various Marvel publications.

Fictional history

Prior to the creation of the Vault, super-humans in US custody were usually imprisoned in special wards in Ryker's Island; however, concern about the danger posed to non-super-human inmates by the frequent breakouts by the super-human population in the prison led to those wards being closed.

Another venue, the energy research facility Project Pegasus, was also briefly used, though the unsuitability of such an institution for use as a general prison led to the imprisonment of most criminals there being discontinued eventually. The US Government then set about building a unique penitentiary dedicated and designed exclusively for the detainment of super-human criminals. Using expertise, research and technology pioneered at Project Pegasus spearheaded by Dr. Henri Sorel, and extremely robust materials such as adamantium and osmium steel, they built an underground three-level structure over 40 feet (12 m) below ground level in the Rocky Mountain range in Colorado.

Security guards at the prison wore armoured Guardsmen uniforms. These suits, similar in appearance to the armour worn by the original Guardsman, used technology adapted from Tony Stark's Iron Man armour designs. Originally Stark disagreed with this unauthorised use of his work, and this led him (in his Iron Man guise) to forcibly remove all his technology from the armour (Iron Man #228; March, 1988, during the Armor Wars). However, Stark's opinion later partially changed. He went on to contribute to the design of a later model of the suit, limited to work only in the Vault itself and the close environs thereof (Avengers Spotlight #29; February, 1990).

The first individuals to be detained at the Vault were 11 members of the East and West Coast branches of the Avengers, who were suspected of treason (Avengers Annual #15). Though they eventually escaped, it was only with outside aid as they found the facility internally impenetrable. They were eventually cleared of all charges.

After those events the prison filled with inmates, as super-human criminals were transferred there from all over the country. It quickly became the site of numerous breakouts and break out attempts. One of the most frequent escapees was the Spider-Man villain Venom, who escaped from the institution at least twice (The Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #315 and 331 (May 1989 and April 1990)), in the process killing many people. One of these escapes eventually lead to the formation of a group of individuals who called themselves The Jury, who intended to destroy Venom once and for all. At another point, during the events of the Avengers: Deathtrap, the Vault graphic novel, he led a revolt among the inmates which necessitated the intervention of both the Avengers and Freedom Force. Truman Marsh, the current warden, goes insane over the stress of the breakout. Marsh had set off the Vault's self-destruct and due to several mistakes, it was going to destroy half the state, killing millions. By the time Venom kills Marsh, the warden was fully willing to kill all the innocents in order to destroy the supervillains. Iron Man, Hank Pym and Thunderball neutralize the bomb.

A Guardsman named Hugh Taylor was killed by Venom in a later breakout. This led his father, General Orwell Taylor, to assemble a group of embittered former Guardsmen from the Vault. Calling themselves The Jury, the group then illegally used modified versions of their armour to try hunt down and exact revenge against Venom, beginning with their first appearance in Venom: Lethal Protector #1 (February, 1993). The group was later reformed under the leadership of U.S. Agent.

Better living conditions

In New Warriors (Vol. 1) #25 (August, 1992), Vance Astrovik was sentenced to imprisonment in the Vault, after being found guilty of the manslaughter of his father. While he was en route to the facility, a group of his teammates in the New Warriors overwhelmed the Guardsmen, whom Vance has befriended and attempted to aid his escape. Astrovik chose to stay in captivity and serve his time (New Warriors (Vol. 1) #26; June, 1993). While incarcerated, he helped foil a riot. Part of Vance's success was his willingness to campaign for better living conditions. For example, Terraformer (a captured member of Force of Nature) simply desires a plant in his cell. Vance manages to give him one off the Warden's desk. This serves to lessen the ire of many of the prisoners (New Warriors Vol. 1 #36; June, 1993). Astrovik was released from the prison in New Warriors Vol. 1 #43 (January, 1994).

On at least one occasion, a criminal was not freed from the Vault itself, but rather while they were en route to the Vault. The mutant terrorist group known as the Resistants attacked a prisoner transport van, killing or incapacitating the Guardsmen operating the van, and freed the mutant criminal known as Mentallo.

Mass breakouts did occur at the institution on at least four occasions. The first occurred as a result of Iron Man having disabled the Guardsmen's armour as a part of the Armor Wars storyline in Iron Man Vol. 1 #228 (March, 1988). The resulting jailbreak occurred in Captain America (Vol. 1) #340 (April 1988), though the escapees were quickly recaptured.

The second large-scale breakout, instigated by Loki, was one of the major contributing factors to the numerous supervillain attacks on various heroes during the "Acts of Vengeance" crossover, with the jailbreak itself occurring in Avengers Spotlight #26, Damage Control (Vol. 2) #1 (December 1989) and Quasar #6 (January 1990). The villains enjoyed more freedom then expected as the warden accidentally calls Damage Control before the Avengers. The facility was restored to functionality by the time of Avengers Spotlight #29 (February 1990), after Loki's alliance of criminal masterminds had collapsed and most of the escaped inmates had been recaptured.

Another breakout was recounted in a flashback in Thunderbolts Annual '97 (1997) (it had actually occurred prior to the events of Thunderbolts (Vol. 1) #1; April 1997), although only a handful of escapees were named. The fourth and final mass breakout occurred in Heroes for Hire (Vol. 1) #1. In that final prison break, the facility was destroyed by the U-Foes.


As a result of the facility's destruction, the US government abandoned the concept of a single penitentiary for super-humans, instead dispersing the detainment of such criminals in a number of normal prisons such as Seagate Prison and The Raft (a part of Ryker's Island, located on an adjacent island).

Later the idea of a dedicated institution was revived, this time in drastically different fashion with the experimental Lang Memorial Prison also known as the "Ant Hill" or "Big House", where criminals were reduced dramatically in size through the use of Pym Particles; a method of escape was deduced by an android duplicate of the Mad Thinker in She-Hulk, and in the aftermath of the chaos that followed the project was abandoned.

Another dedicated prison, nicknamed "The Cage", is an isolated island in international waters with a force field nullifying all superhuman powers. It is unclear whether the Raft or the Big House are still in operation as both have recently suffered major prison breaks (New Avengers #1 and She-Hulk Vol. 3 #5, respectively). However, Carol Danvers later stated that the Raft was still the location where supervillains were "dropped off" in the limited series Captain Marvel #1, and Titania, a She-Hulk villain, appeared in She-Hulk in a shrunken form after escaping The Big House in a story set months after Vol. 3 #5.

With the recent Civil War Event, a new maximum-security prison for superpowered individuals was created by the government in the very place that no superhuman could escape from unaided — the Negative Zone. The Prison was nicknamed 'Fantasy Island' by its inmates and 'Prison 42' by its designers, Tony Stark & Reed Richards, as it had been their 42nd idea out of a hundred for 'A Safer America' after the Stamford Disaster.


Known inmates

Other versions

Mutant X

In the "Mutant X" the Vault also operates as a prison, it is featured in issue #26. One of its many inmates is the classic vampire Dracula imprisoned in a technological coffin. Forces attack the Vault, killing many Guardsmen and taking Dracula. For lack of any better options, Henry Peter Gyrich, a government employee, calls in "The Six", a superhero team, to fix the situation as best as possible.

The Big M

The Vault is present in this reality. Known inmates are Destiny, Mimic, Rhino, and Mister Hyde.

Publication history

The Vault first appeared in Avengers Annual #15 (1986) by writers Steve Englehart and Danny Fingeroth, artist Steve Ditko and Editor Mark Gruenwald. It is unclear whether Englehart, Fingeroth or Gruenwald (or all three) originated the concept.

The Vault was not the first super-human detainment facility to appear in comic books. Marvel had shown their characters detained in various penitentiaries (usually alongside regular criminals) prior to Avengers Annual #15, most often at "Ryker's Island" (a fictionalized Rikers Island). Also, while DC Comics' more well-known Arkham Asylum predates the Vault by over twelve years, Arkham is technically a psychiatric hospital, not a prison. There is also Takron-Galtos, a prison planet which incarcerated many of the Legion of Super-Heroes' villains which first appeared in Adventure Comics #359 (August, 1967).

However, the Vault was the first prison said to be built specifically and exclusively for the detention of supervillains, and the first to be widely used across a line of comic books. Similar institutions in other comic book universes, such as "the Slab" and Iron Heights in the DC Universe, first appeared years later.

After its debut, the Vault quickly began to appear throughout Marvel's line of titles as it became the standard destination of imprisoned super-humans in the Marvel Universe. Several storylines were based around the notion of superheroes being imprisoned in the facility or a number of inmates coordinating a prison break. In 1991, the facility was the subject and main setting for an original graphic novel, Avengers: Deathtrap, the Vault (later republished as Venom: Deathtrap, the Vault), which was written by Danny Fingeroth with art by Ron Lim.

After Heroes for Hire Vol. 1 #1, the concept was abandoned. Comic book writer Kurt Busiek explained some the reasoning for this in a Usenet posting in February 2001[11]

" the Vault is a dramatically-flawed idea -- either villains escape a lot (which is what happened) and the result is that this supposedly-cool place looks like it's made of cardboard, or they don't, in which case villains get captured and vanish from the Marvel U. forever, since Marvel time mitigates against their sentences ever being naturally completed."

In other media



Video game


See also


  1. 1 2 3 Marvel Graphic Novel: Avengers: Deathtrap: The Vault
  2. New Warriors #36 & #42, Thunderbolts 1997 annual and Force Works #13
  3. Fantastic Four: Foes #1
  4. Captain America #340
  5. New Warriors #36
  6. 1 2 Spider-Man: Breakout #1
  7. Fantastic Four: Foes #6
  8. 1 2 She-Hulk vol. 3 #10
  9. 1 2 Thunderbolts '97
  10. 1 2 3 4 Marvel Graphic Novel: Avengers: Deathtrap: the Vault
  12. The Vault

External links

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