This is a fun graphic novel with a combined Avengers team made up of East Coast and West Coast members, working alongside the mutant team Freedom Force to combat a prison break led by Venom and featuring a huge number of super-criminals. (I think this is the first time Captain America has met Venom, no?)
Our post opens at the end of the criminal trial of Basil Sandhurst, aka the Controller (an Iron Man villain whom we saw, albeit very little, back in Captain Marvel #28). He has been found guilty and did not take it well, questioning the integrity of the court, to which the trial judge responds below. Then the defense counsel cites irregularities… but doesn’t mention that a masked hero was allowed to testify, which as of Namor the Sub-Mariner #13 he was not allowed to do (although this has since been changed).
Truman Marsh is the chief administrator of the Vault, the prison for super-powered convicts, and he definitely rubs Hank the wrong way…
…and Cap can only offer him a half-hearted defense.
Soon after Cap and Hank leave, Venom organizes a prison break; seeing this, Marsh remembers the vow he took that no criminals would escape from the Vault, no matter what had to be done to prevent it (such as pressing that menacing-looking button, which our literature-loving Sentinel of Liberty would tell you is an example of Chekhov’s gun). Luckily, our heroes were able to turn around very quickly so Cap could demonstrate the many uses of his mighty shield.
Marsh is about to escape when Freedom Force shows up and offers to “deal with” the convicts directly; after he shows them to an underground tunnel that leads into the Vault, he thinks he’s safe after all until he realizes he actually did press that button (oops), which activated a bomb in the nuclear reactor under the prison (with just 21 minutes left to go).
After the hybrid Avengers team joins Cap and Hank, they learn about the bomb too, thanks to Iron Man’s access to Google Translate.
Hank tries to alert Freedom Force about the bomb, but their tunnel is flooded, and the Avengers make their own plan: Hank and Iron Man will go after the bomb while Cap and the others take care of the people inside the Vault.
She-Hulk didn’t say anything to Cap earlier in the comic about panicking (as you might expect she did), but he graciously responds nonetheless.
“I’ll check the attendance logs later, Jennifer, but yes, I would imagine you did.”
The team splits up to apprehend the escaped criminals; Cap, faced with Electro, shows yet more crafty ways to use the shield (including the legendary vertical toss).
She-Hulk adds to the pile-up, earning praise from Cap…
…which she deflects with sarcasm before Cap gets a message from Freedom Force leader Mystique, about which the Avengers are cautiously skeptical (given concerns about the formerly villainous mutants siding with the escaped criminals).
Their suspicions are only somewhat justified—not because Mystique and the others switched sides, but because several of the inmates coerced them into luring the Avengers into a trap.
Luckily, other Avengers beat them to it, but She-Hulk is still skeptical about Freedom Force’s intentions.
Nonetheless, together the two teams get the jump on Mr. Hyde and Nekra (who are hiding out and K-I-S-S-I-N-G), but they are less than cooperative when Cap tries to get them to talk.
Blob and Pyro of Freedom Force are more than happy to loosen their tongues, but Cap puts a stop to that… for which Freedom Force turns on the Avengers, and Wonder Man, appropriately for an actor, performs Cap’s line at the end.
If Hyde and Nekra wouldn’t talk about Venom, why not ask the man—umm, symbiote—himself? To his credit, Cap makes an effort which is once again rebuffed, so he eagerly throws in with Blob’s back-up plan… until Venom reveals he has hostages.
However, after Hank Pym and Iron Man manage to convince Venom—or, rather, his fellow escapee, the genius physicist Thunderball—of the existence of the bomb, which Marsh had assured Venom did not exist, Klaw imprisons the rest of the Avengers and Freedom Force in a “sound cage” while the three big brains work on defusing it, succeeding with 1/100 of a second to go. When the Vision (captured earlier) knocks out Klaw and releases the heroes, Cap calls them—all of them—to action.
The next page is just a great brawl scene courtesy of Ron Lim, Jim Sanders, Fred Fredericks, and Joe Rosas…
…followed by an superb kick from Captain America.
After Iron Man uses technologically-boosted mind control (sigh) to calm down the escaped convicts, Marsh triggers a meltdown in the nuclear reactor under the vault—but Venom finds him there and throws him into the reactor, killing him. When the heroes arrive, Iron Man incapacitates Venom before he and the Radioactive Man absorb all the dangerous radiation and release it safely (though don’t ask me how).
I think the exposition above overstates the importance of this case—unless they’re talking about Iron Man’s mind-control shenanigans, about which Cap should definitely talk to him later!
Avengers: Death Trap – The Vault (Marvel Graphic Novel #68), September 1991: Danny Fingeroth (writer), Ron Lim (pencils), Jim Sanders and Fred Fredericks (inks), Joe Rosas (colors), Joe Rosen (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in: Avengers Epic Collection: The Collection Obsession.
ALSO THIS MONTH: Captain America #391-392, Infinity Gauntlet #3, Adventures of Captain America #1, Avengers #337 and Alpha Flight #100, Avengers #338, Thor #436, and Damage Control #4, and Avengers Annual #20, Namor the Sub-Mariner Annual #1, and West Coast Avengers Annual #6 (September 1991)