|First appearance||Avengers Annual #15 (1986)|
Vault was the widely used nickname of a fictional prison facility for technological-based superhuman criminals (predominantly supervillains) appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. The Vault first appeared in Avengers Annual #15 (1986). The prison's full official name is the United States Maximum Security Installation for the Incarceration of Superhuman Criminals.
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 12 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 superhumans 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 Marvel Graphic Novel No. 68 - Avengers: Death Trap - The Vault (later republished as Venom: Death Trap - The Vault) which was written by Danny Fingeroth with art by Ron Lim.
The facility was destroyed in Heroes for Hire #1 (February 1997), although the facility still occasionally appears in flashbacks in various Marvel publications.
Afterwards, the concept was abandoned. Comic book writer Kurt Busiek explained some the reasoning for this in a Usenet posting in February 2001
Prior to the Vault, superhumans in U.S. custody were usually imprisoned in Ryker's Island's special wards; however, concern about the danger posed to non-superhuman inmates by the prison's frequent breakouts by the superhuman population 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 U.S. 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.
Prison security guards wore armoured Guardsmen uniforms, similar to the original Guardsman's armor, used technology adapted from Iron Man's designs. As a part of the Armor Wars storyline, Iron Man originally disagreed with this unauthorised use of designs and this led to Iron Man to forcibly remove all technology, resulting in a jailbreak, though the escapees were quickly recaptured. Iron Man's opinion later partially changed and went on to contribute to a later Guardsman design, limited to work only in the Vault itself and the close environs thereof.
The Vault's first individuals to be detained were 11 members of the Avengers' East and West Coast branches who were suspected of treason. 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 superhuman 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 villain Venom escaping from the institution at least twice, killing many people in the process.
At another point, he led a revolt among the inmates which necessitated both the Avengers' and Freedom Force's intervention. Truman Marsh goes insane over stress of the breakout, setting off the Vault's self-destruct which was going to destroy half the state (due to several mistakes), killing millions. Marsh was fully willing to kill all the innocents in order to destroy the supervillains by the time Venom kills the warden. Iron Man, Hank Pym and Thunderball neutralize the bomb.
One of Venom's escapes resulted in Guardsman Hugh Taylor's death, inspiring his father to assemble a group of embittered former staff from the Vault illegally using modified Guardsman armour to exact revenge against Venom.
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. 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 one off the warden's desk. This serves to lessen the ire of many of the prisoners. Astrovik was released from the prison.
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 attacked a prisoner transport van, killing or incapacitating the Guardsmen operating the van, and freed the mutant criminal Mentallo.
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. The villains enjoyed more freedom then expected as the warden accidentally calls Damage Control before the Avengers. The facility was restored to functionality 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, although only a handful of escapees were named. The fourth and final mass breakout occurred with the facility destroyed by the U-Foes.
As a result of the facility's destruction, the U.S. government abandoned the concept of a single penitentiary for superhumans, 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 the "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, 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. However, Carol Danvers later stated that the Raft was still the location where supervillains were "dropped off". and Titania appeared in a shrunken form after escaping the Big House.
During the "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 designers Tony Stark and Reed Richards, as it had been their 42nd idea out of 100 for 'A Safer America' after the Stamford disaster.
In the "Mutant X" storyline, 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, government employee Henry Peter Gyrich calls in "The Six" superhero team to fix the situation as best as possible.
The Vault is present in this reality. Known inmates are Destiny, Mimic, the Rhino, and Mister Hyde.