Avengers: Deathtrap: The Vault
Issue(s): "Avengers: Deathtrap: The Vault"
Taken in isolation, this is a very cool breakout story, with the Avengers and Freedom Force being sent in to take care of a breakout at the Vault and getting trapped inside with the villains. Within the context of the larger Marvel universe, however, this is yet another Vault breakout, coming hot on the heels of another major one that just happened during Acts of Vengeance (based on where this issue has to be placed). Marvel would prefer that we judge each story in isolation, but it's the repeated breakouts at the Vault that eventually caused them to retire the concept. The whole point of the Vault as a concept is supposed to be that it's impregnable, but in practice the opposite is true. It would be like if 90% of the stories featuring adamantium showed it getting broken. So in-story, the best way to view the Vault is that it's a failure, and eventually the authorities realize that and get rid of it. But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy a fun breakout story in the meantime.
That said, another problem with stories like these, and which this story fails to avoid, is that the villains' threat level is inversely proportional to how many of them there are. Take any five villains in this story and you have yourself a decent two-parter for the regular Avengers series. But put them all together here, and major villains are getting punched out in a single panel. This sort of thing seems inevitable whenever there are a large number of villains, but it's more understandable, at least from a genre perspective, when it's a prison breakout story. These are based on non-super hero prison breakouts, where you need a massive amount of dangerous prisoners to make it a threat. It just doesn't translate as well when the villains have super-powers.
There's another player in this story: the new Vault warden, Truman Marsh. His parents were killed during a (unspecified) super-battle, and in truth he blames both sides for the death of his parents. In one sense he's put that anger to a positive use by becoming the Vault warden, but he's gone a bit beyond his authority. It turns out that there's a direct line from the White House to the Vault that would allow the president to detonate the entire Vault if there was ever a breakout (I'm assuming this was installed after the Acts of Vengeance breakout, or else i can't imagine when it would ever be used). And Marsh has tapped into that line, giving him the ability to detonate the Vault himself. In this story, Marsh will activate that bomb a bit prematurely and get caught in the Vault along with the Avengers and Freedom Force as it's counting down. That's why this story is Deathtrap: The Vault and not just Breakout: The Vault.
The story opens with a court case against the Controller. The Controller himself is held in a sealed container, which he and his lawyer claim is a violation of his rights, along with the fact that the trial is taking place miles away from where the crimes were committed. But the judge says that everything is proceeding according to rules established by the Supreme Court case of Brock vs. the State of New York (Brock being Eddie Brock, aka Venom). Captain America and Henry Pym testify against the Controller, for which Marsh gives his thanks.
The Controller is then brought to his cell...
...which is not too far from the cell of Venom.
But the Controller is ultimately not all that relevant to the story. The opportunity from the breakout actually comes from Marsh himself, who seems to be running illegal experiments on the inmates. An accident with Mentallo increases his powers, allowing him to contact Venom in the next cell over, and they work out an escape plan. Mentallo pretends to still be in pain from the experiment, but when a guard runs into his room, he forces him to open Venom's cell before knocking him out with a psychic attack.
The Guardsman armor, supposedly upgraded by Iron Man in Avengers Spotlight #29, proves to be ineffective against Venom.
I know i'm the one that always complains when they use sonics on Venom, but you'd think they'd have something like that equipped in their armor and be briefed regarding it's effects on him.
Venom doesn't intentionally free the other inmates; it happens incidentally.
It's actually Electro who starts deliberately freeing more prisoners.
And it's Thunderball who makes sure that the knockout gas is disabled (not to take away from Vapor's powers).
The only villains that make it out of the Vault are Griffin, Orka, and Bullet, but they are stopped by Captain America and Henry Pym, who were close enough to respond after the Controller's trial.
Since prisoners aren't actually escaping, Marsh holds off on triggering his bomb for now.
But there's still the problem of the villains loose in the cellblock.
So Freedom Force is called in.
And more Avengers respond as well.
The Vision calculates that there's a 25% chance that the once-villainous Freedom Force will side with the inmates.
Meanwhile, Venom says that they're going to kill a guard every five minutes until they are all released, and he makes good on that threat.
Marsh is contemplating triggering the bomb again when Freedom Force arrives. So he decides to hold off again and let them try to deal with the breakout. But then he realizes that the bomb has accidentally been activated. And he decides to just go with it, and damage the circuitry so that the countdown can't be stopped. He then tries to leave via a secret elevator, but he winds up getting captured by Venom (thanks to Vermin, who tracked Marsh down).
I guess it's ironic that if Venom had just followed Marsh a few more steps, he would have been able to leave via the elevator himself. Instead, Marsh detonates the elevator and causes adamantium plates to seal the shaft.
The Avengers arrive and learn about the bomb. They split into teams, with the Vision being sent ahead to scout. He winds up doing more than scouting when Venom is about to kill the next guard...
...but then the Vision is taken out by Klaw.
Things get tense among the villains when Thunderball says that the Controller shouldn't try to use a control disc on the Vision (it may not work, since he's a unique kind of robot), and Venom doesn't like someone else taking charge.
Electro stops the fight, and then Thunderball makes an appeal to the villains, saying it makes more sense to try to make a break for it instead of waiting around to see if someone responds to their hostage demands. Only Electro and Ironclad (but not the rest of the U-Foes? Not even a word of debate from the other U-Foes?) go with Thunderball.
The three villains are very easily defeated by Captain America and She-Hulk, in any event.
Before the Avengers can even get to the villains, they have to fight their way through the Vault's defense systems. You guys love it when the tiny super-hero sits on the archer super-hero's arrow, right?
Wonder Man, Hawkeye, and the Wasp then get into a fight with Titania, Moonstone, and Piledriver.
Meanwhile, Freedom Force are captured by Hydroman, and Mystique surrenders.
And back in the main cellblock, another rebellion, this time from Armadillo, Rhino, and Scarecrow, who just want to serve out their sentences.
Nice choices there. Armadillo is not a straight up villain, something that was ignored in the Acts of Vengeance breakout. And the Rhino has been wanting to get out of his suit for a while now (it must stink to high heaven). And Scarecrow was probably scared straight by Hawkeye in Avengers Spotlight #26.
Their rebellion is put down by Klaw and the Controller. I wonder if it eventually came out that they didn't try to participate and got some time off for good behavior.
Captain America and She-Hulk next find a few members of Freedom Force, who tell them that Mystique and their two WWII era (and non-villainous) members have been injured. It smells very much like a trap to Cap and She-Hulk, but they move forward. However, the situation is interrupted when Wonder Man's group arrives. It's left open whether or not Freedom Force was going to betray the Avengers.
With the "good" guys all working together now, they start mopping up the villains.
Aww, leave those two alone! They're not hurting anyone! I'm also assuming Mr. Hyde doesn't have access to his serum because i don't know how else he gets knocked out with one bop on the head. Nekra makes more sense; she's powered by hate, not lovin'.
The tide turns again soon, in part because the two teams have a debate about ethics, with Freedom Force being willing to kill, and in part because it turns out that Iron Man and Henry Pym have been captured.
At this point Henry Pym convinces Thunderball that there really is a bomb, and Venom allows him to go with Pym and Iron Man to try to disable it. The rest of the heroes are held by Klaw until they return. They do manage to disable it, leading to Venom getting jealous and attacking Thunderball again. In the confusion, the Vision is able to wake up and free the heroes, so... big fight.
And despite some worry about the numbers, the Avengers and Freedom Force do fine, and eventually Iron Man rigs up a device using a control disc and Mentallo to shut down the escapees.
However, Marsh slipped away to rig up the facility's nuclear reactor to explode. Venom follows him and kills him, but the reactor is in meltdown. So Iron Man and Radioactive Man shut it down.
Definitely a fun brawl of an issue, despite some of the complaints i listed above. There is little room for characterization, with the defection of Armadillo, Rhino, and Scarecrow probably being the best bit, while the decisions of Electro and Ironclad to join Thunderball are unexplored. Freedom Force's questionable morals is a bit overplayed while at the same time being left too ambiguous (if Fingeroth was going to keep hitting us with the idea that they'd defect at the first sign of trouble, it would have been nice to see what their decision actually was). I would have loved to see something done with them and the fact that Frenzy, a mutant activist/terrorist, is among the prisoners. But Freedom Force are treated as generic former villains as opposed to mutants. Probably just not enough room in the story for all these angles, but when you have all these characters it would be nice for them to be used to their potential instead of just filling up panels. Nonetheless, what we do get is a nice fun fight story with nice art from Ron Lim.
Quality Rating: B
Chronological Placement Considerations: Venom needs to appear here before his next break-out from the Vault (yes, again) in Amazing Spider-Man #330 (Mar 90), which begins a story ending with the Venom symbiote seemingly dead, which obviously isn't the case here). Therefore, although this book came out in 1991, placing it in the gap created by the departure of John Byrne from the Avengers titles seems like a safe bet, and it's what the MCP does. See the comments below about Tarantula's appearance; he doesn't actually appear on panel. I'll also note that the MCP doesn't list Arthur Nagan as a character in this issue but that's probably just a miss; you can find Electro freeing him from his cell above.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Venom: Deathtrap: The Vault
Inbound References (4): showArmadillo, Arthur Nagan, Avalanche, Blob, Bullet, Captain America, Controller, Crimson Commando, Eddie Brock (Venom), Electro, Erik Josten, Frenzy, Grey Gargoyle, Griffin, Hawkeye, Henry Pym, Hydroman, Iron Man, Ironclad, Jerry Morgan, Klaw, Mentallo, Moonstone (Karla Sofen), Mr. Hyde, Mystique, Nekra, Orka, Piledriver, Powderkeg, Pyro, Radioactive Man, Rhino, Ruby Thursday, Scarecrow, She-Hulk, Speed Demon, Super Sabre, Thunderball, Titania, Vapor, Venom Symbiote, Vermin, Vision, Wasp, Wonder Man, Wrecker, X-Ray
Venom seems much too bloodthirsty in this story. His sanity has always been suspect, but by the time this came out he had already started his transition into the "lethal protector" phase, and had been making a lot of noise regarding "innocents" (which gives weight to why he wouldn't release the other villains).
I guess it's possible he was bluffing to get himself out, or that he no longer considers the Vault guards "innocent" after being locked up by them for so long. But, considering the links he went to to justify his murders in ASM #300 and #315 (once of which was of another Guardsman!), killing a random guard every five minutes should not be his M.O.
Posted by: TCP | April 28, 2015 3:58 PM
Considering what TCP mentions and the state of Venom in the Spider-Man books you mention, I wonder how long this was in the works before it finally came out?
Posted by: Morgan Wick | April 28, 2015 4:52 PM
Well, Venom also killed a (mildly abusive) guard when he escaped custody at the end of the upcoming Spider Slayers arc, in a way that was very disturbing to my young self and I still find rather disquieting.
I wonder what the families of all his victims thought of Reed Richards proclaiming Brock the true hero of Spider Island.
Posted by: Thanos6 | April 28, 2015 5:45 PM
The one panel above where Venom's "mask" is covering his face while he's typing shows perfectly well why his head doesn't work. I mean, when you look at his profile in the panel directly below, his mouth is partially open and you should see Eddie Brock's face in there. You can tell how it wasn't originally intended to have a human inside the suit when Venom's visual was first created.
Otherwise, this is a fun story! I still have the original graphic novel and it's always been a favorite of mine.
Posted by: Bill | April 28, 2015 6:23 PM
TCP- I don't see this as out of character for Eddie. He killed twp prison doctors in Amazing 331. Brock may claim to care about innocents but he's been willing to kill them as long as they got between him and Spider-Man.
Posted by: Michael | April 28, 2015 8:44 PM
I was thinking it could have been written or at least planned any time when Venom's actions in this story would have been more obviously in character, so not necessarily "shortly" before ASM 330-331, maybe even before Acts of Vengeance was all that far along (not that that needs to have any bearing on when it takes place chronologically) - certainly what you say about Goliath suggests it may have been originally planned before or during AoV.
But ASM 300, which TCP cites as a time when Venom tried to justify his murders, was actually the first appearance of Venom as such, so there really wasn't a time when this story would have been what TCP would have seen as "in character", and in any case this probably would have to have been after Venom was established as a continuing character around ASM 315, meaning uncomfortably close to the AoV breakout no matter what. Is it possible it started life as part of Acts of Vengeance?
Eh, I'm pretty much just engaging in wild speculation about the behind-the-scenes history of a random graphic novel based on a random continuity glitch or two...
Posted by: Morgan Wick | April 28, 2015 9:17 PM
As you say, wild speculation, but the idea that it might have started as the Acts of Vengeance Vault breakout, instead of yet another breakout, is intriguing. I don't know if there's enough to hang it on, since the scripting would have been done last and if they wanted to make it seem like Venom wasn't really killing the guards or at least had regrets about it, they could have done it at a late date. But it's an interesting idea.
Posted by: fnord12 | April 28, 2015 9:32 PM
Keep in mind that it had to have been planned after Uncanny X-Men 255, since Destiny and Stonewall are absent, and X-Men 255 came out the week before Acts of Vengeance.
Posted by: Michael | April 28, 2015 9:58 PM
Fnord, quick question- in a later flashback, we see that Tarantula killed a guard during the events of this issue, and that guard's wife joins the Jury, so does Tarantula get an appearance?
Posted by: Michael | April 28, 2015 10:09 PM
Eh. Venom is a plain vanilla psychopatic hypocrite. There is no subtlety nor nuance to his character. He was always a bully and a murderer.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | April 28, 2015 10:19 PM
@Michael, i don't want to list Tarantula as appearing because he doesn't actually appear or perform any actions related to this story. It could be that there are lots more villains potentially in the Vault but aren't part of this story. It's kind of a tricky situation, but i've decided not to list him at least until i get to the Jury story and see the flashback.
Posted by: fnord12 | April 28, 2015 10:25 PM
Is it ever explained how Bullet wound up in the Vault? When he got arrested in Daredevil #251 he knew he'd be released due to his government connections, and considering he'd already reappeared at least three times (without getting rearrested) by this point he seems to have been right. His last appearance ended with him making some peace with Daredevil, and he seems a bit of an odd choice to throw in with the other villains here.
Posted by: James M | April 29, 2015 4:16 PM
There's no explanation in this story, and i agree that it's odd.
Posted by: fnord12 | April 29, 2015 4:27 PM
I suppose the other explanation is that they just didn't give a hoot about continuity, and threw a bunch of villains into the Vault for this story regardless of whether it made sense or whether they were in character...
Posted by: Morgan Wick | April 29, 2015 6:16 PM
Problem with this comic is, not enough colons.
And, for the record, the Venom sonics thing always bugged me too. It's literally just the first thing Mr. Fantastic tried, and it winds up being Venom's kryptonite. And, vulnerable to fire? What ISN'T vulnerable to fire?
Posted by: Andrew F | May 12, 2015 11:16 PM
you know, the worst part of these types of prisonbreak stories is that they are a great opportunity to free lots of villains to be used in later stories. Instead the heroes easily catch everyone and set it back to the status quo (or like at the end of Acts of vengeance, all returned by the end of the arc.) So then the next writer to use the villain has to write a new prison break story to free their individual pet villain for that story, resulting in another escape.
they should have used this story as a bench clearing for the vault. all the villains escape and go into hiding. that way the next time the villain appears they don't have to explain how he/she got out.
the good thing about this one is the villains all wearing their prison grays.
Posted by: kveto | August 15, 2015 5:31 AM
As a follow-up to the discussion of Venom's motivations -- Michelinie has stated that, whereas Jim Salicrup would let only him write for Venom, Danny Fingeroth was not as selective, and would let "anyone on the planet" write the character. I can't help but note that this story was written by Fingeroth himself (though Mark Gruenwald was also able to slip a Venom cameo into Quasar #6 before this).
Posted by: TCP | September 11, 2015 11:19 AM
"And, vulnerable to fire? What ISN'T vulnerable to fire?"
Ghost Rider comes to mind.
Posted by: clyde | September 11, 2015 11:57 AM
@AndrewF, At least Dan Slott eventually came up with a plausible rationalization for it, having Peter Parker suggest that a creature adapted for the vacuum of space would have problems with fire and sound.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | November 10, 2015 6:56 PM
I think you missed to tag Ruby Thursday: she appears in the background when Electro and Ironclad respond to Thunderball's "Who's with me?" and again later in a couple of crowd scenes.
btw that Nekra+Hyde thing is pretty funny, I mean it comes out of nowhere (according to this site this is their first and so far only appearance together), I assume they realized they were going to die and hooked up with the first person available. They could have shown Titania with Absorbing Man or something... well, ok I guess they needed less powerful villains for that scene. Still, a funny pairing.
Also when Venom says "Perhaps you should consider the safety of Dr. Pym and Iron Man" revealing to have them hostage, and Crimson Commando says "No!" I like to think that is a direct response to Venom's statement.
Posted by: KombatGod | December 21, 2017 10:52 AM
Oh, okay Marvel Wiki says that the other weird face in the background is Jerry Morgan, and yeah that's him. Now if we find that Chondu makes a cameo as well, then the entire Headmen team is here with nothing to say or do.
Posted by: KombatGod | December 21, 2017 11:03 AM
Added Ruby and Jerry. Thanks KombatGod.
Posted by: fnord12 | December 21, 2017 5:50 PM
I always thought Thunderball was going to be a bigger player after this story. For a brief moment, his brain is placed on the same level as Tony Stark and Hank Pym. It's a nice character moment. As mentioned, all of these little character moments the villains get are fantastic.
If this story was written today by somebody like Bendis these characters would all be interchangeable. The story works here because the characters are not ciphers.
Posted by: bigvis497 | April 23, 2018 11:17 AM
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