|First appearance||Avengers Annual #15 (1986)|
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.
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.
- Howard G. Hardman (former warden)[volume & issue needed]
- Truman Marsh (former warden) - He is killed when Venom prevents him from destroying half the state.
- Jzemlico (warden) 
- Andrew Lewis (designer of both incarnations of the Vault) - Owns Lewis Security Systems, he designed the Rocky Mountains Vault and was used as pawn by the Mad Thinker and Threska. He also built the Negative Zone Vault and blamed Reed Richards for his wife's death.
- Absorbing Man
- Angar the Screamer
- Flying Tiger
- Force of Nature
- Gorilla-Man II
- Green Goblin II
- Grey Gargoyle
- Mad Thinker
- Mr. Fear (Alan Fagan)
- Mister Hyde
- Molten Man
- Radioactive Man
- Recorder[volume & issue needed]
- Shrunken Bones
- Screaming Mimi
- Speed Demon
- Starstealth[volume & issue needed]
- Major Kalum Lo
- Bo’Sun Stug-Bar
- Vance Astrovik
- Warlord Krang
- Wrecking Crew
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 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.
- " 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
- Near the end of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a news report says that the Rhino has escaped from the Vault. This prompts Spider-Man to confront him.
- The Vault appeared in the Iron Man episode "The Armor Wars, Part One". The story is an adaptation of the Armor Wars storyline. After filling the ventilation with sleeping gas, Iron Man breaks into the Vault to disable the Guardsman armors. He ends up fighting Hawkeye and the Guardsman which ends with Hawkeye being defeated and Iron Man using the Negator Packs on the Guardsman uniforms (though he later learns that they do not actually use his technology). Blizzard, Grey Gargoyle, and Whirlwind were shown as inmates at the Vault.
- The Vault was featured at the end of the Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes episode "Strings" where the Puppet Master was incarcerated. It was later mentioned in "De-Mole-ition" by the Thing where Mole Man was going to go.
- The Vault appears in The Spectacular Spider-Man episode "Opening Night". Spider-Man is hired by Norman Osborn to test the security system in a plan to escape. However, Green Goblin ends up taking control of the security system and even releases the prisoners. Black Cat also infiltrates the prison to free her father Walter Hardy (depicted as the Burglar who shot Peter Parker's Uncle Ben). Montana, Ox, Fancy Dan, Mysterio (robot), Silvermane, Molten Man, and Rhino, are shown as inmates at the Vault and are released by Green Goblin.
- The Vault appears in The Super Hero Squad Show. It is used to store Infinity Fractals, objects of power retrieved by the heroes as well as imprison villains. It is shaped like a jagged hunk of rock.
- The Vault appears in The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. It is known to hold any technological-based supercriminals and their technology. Known inmates of the Vault include Crimson Dynamo, Technovore, MODOK, Blizzard, Living Laser, Whiplash II, Chemistro and Baron Strucker. In "Iron Man is Born", Nick Fury and some S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents drop off some HYDRA Agents following their attack on the United Nations. Nick Fury interrogates Baron Strucker until the Grim Reaper infiltrates the Vault disguised as a HYDRA Agent in a plot to spring Baron Strucker from prison. Both of them are defeated by Nick Fury and Baron Strucker is taken back to his cell while Grim Reaper is also imprisoned. In "The Breakout", the Vault is one of the four major supervillain prisons mentioned in the first episode of the series as a successful mass breakout is staged along with the other three prisons releasing the prisoners from all four prisons. Iron Man had to have JARVIS activate the self-destruct sequence to destroy the Vault.
- The Vault is mentioned in the Iron Man: Armored Adventures episode "Line of Fire." It is where Black Knight and those involved in the Vibranium smuggling are sent after they were defeated by Iron Man and Black Panther and then arrested by S.H.I.E.L.D. In "Control+Alt+Delete," it was mentioned that there were some A.I.M. operatives in the Vault disguised as guards that snuck Controller out of the Vault.
- The Vault appears in the Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. episode "The Skaar Whisperer." The Agents of S.M.A.S.H. arrive at the Vault when Absorbing Man, Titania, and the Wrecking Crew were planning to break out during a prison riot. While Absorbing Man escaped, Titania and the Wrecking Crew were defeated by the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.
- A prison based on the Vault appeared in the X2: Wolverine's Revenge game and was called The Void. As mentioned by Professor X in the game's data files, it specifically contained mutant supervillains as opposed to human supervillains like the Vault. The prisoners included Magneto, Juggernaut, and Omega Red, but these three were freed by Sabretooth during the game.
- The Vault appears in the Fantastic Four game when the Fantastic Four are imprisoned in the Vault after one of Victor von Doom's robots causes serious damage while trying to kill Reed. During a subsequent prison break, the Fantastic Four manage to calm the escaping prisoners, recapturing many of them and defeating Blastaar and Dragon Man before they can escape.
- In the game The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, the Hulk is temporarily imprisoned in the Vault.
- The Vault appears in the Marvel Super Hero Squad video game.
- The Vault is referenced in Marvel: Avengers Alliance.
- In 1998, Toy Biz released a small line of "Vault"-themed action figures featuring villains from the Marvel Universe. The line composed of figures of Stegron, Typhoid Mary and Ultron. The packaging of each was designed to resemble the interiors of a cell in "the Vault" as they had been presented in the comics. Toy Biz also released a Guardsman figure in their Spider-Man toy line (in the form of an unreleased mold from the Iron Man line from when that line was cancelled).
- In the Spider-Man edition of Monopoly, the properties the players must buy are replaced by various super-villains the players must capture, and the hotels are renamed Vaults.
- Marvel Graphic Novel: Avengers: Deathtrap: The Vault
- New Warriors #36 & #42, Thunderbolts 1997 annual and Force Works #13
- Fantastic Four: Foes #1
- Captain America #340
- New Warriors #36
- Spider-Man: Breakout #1
- Fantastic Four: Foes #6
- She-Hulk vol. 3 #10
- Thunderbolts '97
- Marvel Graphic Novel: Avengers: Deathtrap: the Vault
- The Vault