Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Venom – Deathtrap: The Vault
by Danny Fingeroth and Ron Lim
Why I bought this: In the lead-up to the Avengers movie I decided to buy a few of their trades. I’m also a major Venom fan, and this is from the era I grew up on so it seemed like a perfect pick-up especially since you can grab it off Amazon for under $5.
The Plot – Back in the late 80s Marvel (in the pages of Avengers) created a super-villain prison called the Vault, designed to neutralize the inmates powers and built under the mountains of Colorado to make it harder for them to escape. Of course this led to a decade’s worth of mass jail-break stories the most famous being Acts of Vengeance. This story was an original graphic novel that was part of the jailbreak at the Vault genre.
It starts with Cap and Henry Pym testifying at the Controller’s trial, which is being held at the Vault given his power levels (technological induced mass mind-control and super strength bequeathed to him by Thanos). After the trial ends we meet the warden and learn his parents died in the crossfire of a super-being battle; thus he dislikes the heroes and is obsessed with preventing the villains from ever escaping so much so that he’s added a nuclear bomb to the prison’s failsafe that he can detonate in the event of escape.
Meanwhile low-grade telepath Mentallo is letting scientists test his powers when there’s a power surge. This leads to a power increase, which he keeps to himself and thus later he is able to overcome his cell’s power dampers to telepathically contact Venom and the two of them stage an escape. Venom assaults the guards and in process frees Speed Demon and Moonstone and the next thing you know all the villains are out of their cells.
Cap and Pym hear the alarm and turn around and take out Orka, Bullet and Griffin as they make their way outside the Vault. The Warden manages to seal the rest of the inmates inside and ponders detonating his bomb. The government dispatches Freedom Force (the second Brotherhood of Evil Mutants led by Mystique, who at this time was working for the government in exchange for a pardon) to the scene, while Cap calls in the remaining Avengers (Iron Man, Wasp, Vision, Wonder Man, Hawkeye and She-Hulk).
This sets our dynamic for the rest of the book: The Avengers want to contain the inmates, Freedom Force is assigned to help but given their own criminal background have friends on the inside so their loyalties are torn, the villains want to escape and the warden wants to kill them all. Well I should add Venom is leading the escape, but Thunderball (of the Wrecking Crew) feels he could do a better job so we have some dissension among the villains as well, although to start most are backing Venom since he opened the cell doors.
This is the SPOILER paragraph so you may want to skip to the next section if you intend to read this. Once the set-up in the prior paragraph is in place the book proceeds along the lines you’d probably expect, although it does so in an engaging way. We get lots of fights as the Avengers split into smaller squads and run into various villains in the halls. The various tensions (Freedom Force’s loyalty, Venom and Thunderball, etc) come to ahead. The heroes learn about the bomb (which of course is activated and counting down on a timer). After it’s deactivated (by Iron Man, Pym and Thunderball) we get a big final battle, which ends when Iron Man gets a hold of the Controller’s discs and uses them to stop all the villains except Venom. The warden loses it and decides to sabotage the reactor and kill everyone anyway, but Venom kills him first. The Avengers then stop Venom and Iron Man and Radioactive Man team-up to drain the excess radiation from the reactor.
Critical Thoughts – I liked it. This is a good solid Avengers story with lots of action. Plus it’s drawn by Ron Lim, who draws a heck of a cool looking Venom. And really as Lim proved in the various Infinity crossovers he knows how to draw large groups of characters and battle scenes as well as anyone in comics.
I also want praise Fingeroth’s writing, in that’s he’s working with a very large cast here and yet he manages to give many of the villains a distinctive voice with the occasional nods to their history with some of the other heroes and villains around. An example I liked a lot is Rhino and Armadillo trying to stop the other inmates because they want to serve out their time and get treatment from the government to cure them of their powers, which in both cases mutated them physically.
Since he is given top billing, I think it should be noted this is also a much more homicidal Venom than the character later became. This is actually early in the character’s history (probably his first ever non-Spider-man appearance) when the character still had a full on psychopathic Cape Fear vibe going, instead of the Lethal Protector of the innocent he would later become. I kind of prefer my Venom to be more on the dangerous/deranged side as that was the character’s original appeal, but I can see how someone who is more familiar with the character’s late 90s interpretation would find this take jarring.
Grade: B. This is a perfectly acceptable comic book. It’s not looking to change the world, just tell a one-shot self-contained story. It does just that in a way that is both well-written and looks terrific.