Next to Adamantium, Vibranium is probably the most famous of the fictional “ium” wonder materials to feature in Marvel comics books and the subsequent Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. We all know — or rather, should know — that Captain America’s mighty shield is made of the stuff (causing all who chose to oppose his shield to yield, lest we forget), but Vibranium has a surprisingly long and storied history for such a mysterious metal. The extremely valuable material is also inextricably linked with Black Panther and forms the basis of King T’Challa’s entire history, identity, and motivation.
It certainly gets around for a supposedly rare material, and it can be found in everything from Misty Knight’s cybernetic arm to Stark Tower itself. It has been the source of much conflict in the Marvel universe, and even after centuries of experimentation, it still has great untapped potential to do even more. Here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Vibranium.
15. It comes in two forms: Wakandan and Antarctic
This feels like something we have to clear up right off the bat as it can be quite confusing. “Vibranium” actually refers to two distinctly different metals with unique properties. The most common variety is Wakandan vibranium, mined directly from King T’Challa’s royal reserves. Possessing the uncanny ability to absorb shock and become more durable because of it, it was understandably a highly sought-after material, given its military applications. (The most famous of these being Captain America‘s awesome shield.) When vibranium with a small “v” is talked about, this is usually the type being referred to.
However, the second, even rarer variant is Antarctic. It’s basically the yin to the Wakandan yang. Instead of absorbing shock, it generates it. The material has a unique field of vibration that breaks down the chemical bonds of other metals and shatters and/or liquefies them. Because of this, Antarctic vibranium is often referred to by the much catchier name of “Anti-Metal”. On paper, it may seem like Wakandan vibranium would come out on top when directly compared, but Anti-Metal can even affect the legendarily durable Adamantium, making it a real force to be reckoned with.
14. It first appeared in Daredevil #13 (1966)
Vibranium was introduced over 50 years ago within the pages of Daredevil #13. Bear with us, it’s going to get that special kind of early comics goofy all of a sudden. In the story, The Secret of Ka-Zar’s Origin!, The Man Without Fear wakes up in the jungle and must face a lumbering ape-man by the name of Ka-zar. Also involved is the pirate-themed villain The Plunderer. After a lot of fighting and little plot to speak of, it’s revealed that the appropriately named baddie and Ka-zar are actually long lost brothers, and each holds one of a twin set of medallions. The head of the Plunder family was an explorer who had discovered an unknown metal that melted other metals. Plunder Sr. had sealed his discovery away and locked it, splitting the Anti-Metal key for the vault into the form of two medallions, given to his sons. This marked the first official appearance of Anti-Metal and the concept would continue to be expanded on in later issues.
Wakandan Vibranium didn’t make its debut until six months later in Fantastic Four #53. The Way It Began…! features Marvel’s First Family traveling to Wakanda and learning Black Panther’s origins. T’Challa recounts the tale of his father, T’Chaka, and his murder at the hands of Ulysses Klaw. T’Chaka was brutally gunned down protecting Wakanda’s Sacred Mound, a “virtually inexhaustable” supply of the marvellous metal. The Four are told about the amazing properties of the material, and it’s given its first proper name check. Story time over, the FF team with Black Panther to stop the imminent threat of gigantic red gorilla made of converted sound waves rampaging through Wakanda. We’d love to say you couldn’t make this stuff up, but there’s incontrovertible printed proof that says otherwise.
13. Its exact origins are still unknown
All of the Earth’s vibranium resources come from huge meteorites that crashed into our planet’s surface thousands of years ago. The material has been studied and experimented fairly thoroughly, but its exact source is completely unknown. All that is known is that it’s alien in origin. Vibranium has appeared on alien planets before, however. We found out more about Wakandan vibranium in 2014’s Captain Marvel #5, where Carol Danvers discovers the link between vibranium and the “poison planet” of Torfa.
In Part 5 of Higher, Further, Faster, More., Cap Marvel is trying to save the lives of extraterrestrial refugees when she and her crew are attacked by space pirates. Danvers discovers that J’Son of Spartax, aka Star-Lord‘s comic book dad, hired the pirates to mine the planet of its vibranium. Improper mining protocol has meant that the dangerous untreated metal has been poisoning the planet and its inhabitants. It turns out vibranium is a fantastic ship building material and J’Son wants an unstoppable and indestructible fleet. The whole thing culminates with Captain Marvel taking on the entire Spartax fleet by herself, before destroying Torfa’s mines, burying the vibranium much deeper beyond the reach of mining equipment, and robbing J’Son of his shiny death fleet.
12. Captain America’s shield isn’t pure vibranium
As the most famous vibranium product in the Marvel universe, it’s tempting to think that the shield given to Captain America would be made of 100% pure Wakandan vibranium. Dr. Myron MacLain was attempting to create a synthetic version of Adamantine, aka “the Metal of the Gods” (the mystical material for which Adamantium is named). Dr. MacLain worked to the point of exhaustion, combining vibranium with all manner of other elements to create something as strong as Adamantine, but with no success. The burnt out doctor finally fell asleep, but he did so just as one of the combinations worked thanks to some unknown factor, creating an alloy with incredible qualities. This makes Cap’s shield as much of a one-off as the man himself.
Reports vary on why a shield was created. Some comics have stated that Dr. MacLain chose to make a discus shape inspired by the gods like Hercules, whereas others have put forward a theory that MacLain poured the alloy mix into an existing mold of a tank hatch cover to give the shield its convex shape. Steve Rogers was actually given a pure vibranium shield as a gift at one point by Black Panther, after he’d returned to his Captain America duties following his stint as the disillusioned hero without a country, Nomad.
11. Adamantium was accidentally created whilst trying to duplicate the vibranium alloy
Dr. MacLain may be the luckiest man in the Marvel universe. Not only did he almost literally sleepwalk his way into making Wakandan vibranium even more durable, he also accidentally created one of the Marvel universe’s strongest materials – adamantium. However, he discovered it while trying to make up for his previous screw-up (not knowing exactly how he created the vibranium alloy in the first place). After decades of tinkering, Myron created True Adamantium: the purest and rarest form of the metal.
Secondary Adamantium is the most common form, but is nowhere near as strong and durable as the True form – the material that was grafted to Wolverine‘s skeleton in the military’s Weapon X program that turned everyone’s favorite Canadian mutant into the double-tough badass he’s famous for being. Despite Wolvie’s claws being terrifyingly strong and sharp, it’s worth noting that in the few instances where Wolverine’s claws have come up against Cap’s shield, like in Avengers vs. X-Men #3 seen above, the shield has deflected them with nary a scratch on the patriotic paintwork.
10. Its existence was a secret until the 1980s
Despite Ulysses Klaw discovering the nation’s vast deposits of vibranium back in the ’60s, King T’Challa managed to keep a lid on his kingdom’s resources until 1998’s Black Panther #1, where T’Challa reappears in style, emerging from a slick limo and rocking a powerful shades and suit combo, looking like he stepped off the cover of a mid-90s hip-hop album.
It transpires that T’Challa had made the existence of the miracle metal known to the public a decade prior, and had used the vast profits made from the mining and sale of vibranium to both improve his nation’s infrastructure and modernize it, making it the most technologically advanced nation on Earth-616. It also made him the richest person in the Marvel Universe by a large margin, with his personal net worth of over $500 billion eclipsing Tony Stark’s wealth by an embarrassing amount. Wakanda’s advances in technology led to the complete crushing of an attempted Skrull attack during the Secret Invasion event without the need for any outside help. Impressive.
9. Its insanely high value helped repel an alien invasion
It should be pretty clear at this point that vibranium is crazy valuable. However, the sheer price of the stuff may surprise you. Wakandan vibranium sells at the tasty price of $10,000 per meagre gram. For a real-world comparison, that makes it more expensive than Painate, one of the rarest elements on Earth, which is worth around $9K per gram. Wakanda’s Sacred Mound is said to contain 10,000 tons of the stuff, so you do the math. Seriously – we tried and it made our heads hurt.
This vast wealth took Wakanda from a low ranking African nation to a near stand-alone superpower. We mentioned the failed Skrull invasion before, but we didn’t go into how embarrassingly they lost thanks to Wakanda’s superior firepower. Not only was the invading fleet fired upon by huge panther statues with eye-lasers, but all of their on-board weapons simultaneously exploded thanks to a Wakandan long-range energy disruptor. The hobbled attackers were forced to mount a hand-to-hand ground battle instead. T’Challa evades capture and leads his army to total victory, leaving mountains of Skrull bodies everywhere with a cold warning scrawled on a wall to any other would-be attackers: “This is what happens when you invade Wakanda”.
8. Roxxon Oil faked the discovery of a new vibranium
The Roxxon Energy Corporation (formerly Roxxon Oil) is a shady conglomerate to say the least. Motivated entirely by money, they don’t let little things like morality or even legality get in the way of their bottom line. Charted on a scale from one to heinous, the time Roxxon faked a new vibranium variant ranks somewhere in the middle, but it’s a scummy thing to do nonetheless.
In the Amazing Spider-Man Annual #25, Peter Parker attends a gala unveiling of a new Roxxon product. The sleazy Jonas Hale presents “Nuform”, an apparently synthetic form of vibranium being made available to the highest bidder. However, even as he’s giving his speech about the house-building benefits of their new wonder material, Hale is acutely aware that Nuform is only a temporary state and that the material will eventually revert back to good ol’ Antarctic vibranium, with all its metal melty powers. Not exactly the ideal material to make your home or workplace out of. Spidey and Black Panther team up and eventually expose Roxxon for the frauds they are.
7. Vibranium is extremely tough, but not impossible, to destroy
Vibranium is tougher than the Avengers and X-Men taped together, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely impervious to damage. Don’t get us wrong, it’s incredibly difficult to do. Using Mjolnir and the combined power of Odinforce, Thor still only managed to dent the shield. Having said that, Cap’s shield has been shattered multiple times over the years, and it has been proven that given enough energy, even vast quantities of the stuff can be obliterated.
After Iron Man and Namor duke it out in the Iron Man #121 story, A Ruse By Any Other Name…, the two heroes realize they’ve been duped into fighting each other to distract from the evil Roxxon’s nefarious schemes. A deposit of Wakandan vibranium is found on a remote island in the South Atlantic. Infuriated that Wakanda won’t sell them any, Roxxon brings in a fleet of warships and fires upon the island. Despite Namor and Iron Man’s best efforts, Roxxon succeeds and destroys the entire island in a gigantic but soundless explosion.
6. It can amplify mystical energy
The properties of vibranium are pretty well known, but it still has some surprises hidden up its metaphorical sleeves. Centuries of Wakandan research only scratched the surface of one of its most interesting and dangerous qualities: it can be used to amplify mystical energy. When used in this way, the material becomes unstable and taps into a “virtually infinite” energy on a quantum level. This was a closely guarded secret until Doctor Doom discovered it after a successful plan to use microscopic nanite bots to turn the people of Wakanda into “living cameras”, transmitting audio and visual information back to Latveria. Doom stages a takeover of Wakanda through a shadowy political party called the Desturi and makes a play for the vibranium vault.
As this use of vibranium is rare and mostly untested, it’s hard to exactly quantify just how powerful mystically charged vibranium could be. However, T’Challa estimates that by using the nation’s vast reserves, Doom would become the most powerful force to ever walk the planet, which is an understandable concern. Speaking of whom…
5. Doctor Doom stole all of Wakanda’s vibranium and built an army of Doombots with it
Sticking with Doomwar, Doom succeeds in stealing the vibranium. How you ask? Well, the vault was guarded by several locks, but the last lock was more of a classic mystical riddle. The gate reads, “Only through purity, unencumbered by pretense may you pass”. Doom travels through the gate and is met by Bast, the titanic panther god of Wakanda. Bast threatens to devour von Doom if he lies. The cat god stares deep into Victor’s eyes, and, despite seeing the countless atrocities Doom is guilty of, has to admit that his intentions are pure (albeit monstrous). Doom is under no illusion about who he is and what he does and is allowed to pass. Basically, Doom is so straight-up evil and believes in his cause so much that he fits the admittedly vaguely worded criteria.
With his “earned” vibranium, Doom builds an empire of military bases and Doombots spanning the globe. The villain eventually uses a Cerebro-like machine to connect him to all of Earth’s vibranium and attempts to take over the world. In his pre-emptive victory speech, Doom points out T’Challa’s hypocrisy in keeping the vibranium for himself and his country, and the king ends up agreeing with him. With one simple press of a button, T’Challa neutralizes all of the Wakandan vibranium and turns it into its useless, inert form. He defeats Doom but at great cost, throwing his country into an uncertain future without the insane amounts of money that vibranium provided. Essentially, it was a Vibrexit.
4. It has the power to mutate people
Vibranium may be an incredible material on its own, but radioactive vibranium is a whole different story. It can change both flora and fauna if proper caution isn’t taken. When T’Challa is recounting the story of his ancestors finding the Sacred Mound in Black Panther #7, he notes reports of people turning into demon spirits and turning on their loved ones. Radioactive vibranium is also responsible for the nation’s legendary white apes, permanently altered by the glowing ore.
Untreated vibranium has even been directly responsible for a few superheroes, the most notable of whom being “Vibrania”, a one-off superheroine who appeared in Marvel Super-Heroes Vol. 3 #4. In the Speedball strip, This Is Our Story, a woman named Shara contracts cancer and is bound to a wheelchair after her father experiments on radioactive vibranium. Shara’s given a limited time to live and ends up traveling with Speedball, and the pair fall in love. However, when news of an earthquake in Shara’s home nation of Kwarrai reaches her, the shock and grief activate her powers. Shara is suddenly able to fire vibranium-based energy blasts. Alas, this massive power has an immediate effect on her surroundings and the building she’s in starts to collapse. Shara manages to get Speedball and some bystanders to safety before the whole place crumbles, burying her under tons of rubble, fatally injuring her. Hey, we never said it was a fun story.
3. An opposite metal called Reverbium exists, which amplifies shock and vibration
After T’Challa was forced to render Wakandan vibranium inert, the world starting looking for its next wonder material. In Amazing Spider-Man #648, Peter meets brilliant Xenologist Sajani Jaffrey, who has managed to create a synthetic version of the alien metal in her lab. It’s an imperfect copy, however, and instead of absorbing shock, it reflects and amplifies it to eardrum-busting levels. Not only that, but the process increases exponentially, meaning it could be a powerful weapon in the wrong hands.
As we’re dealing with comic books here, the wrong hands are never far away. Wilson Fisk hears of the new discovery and sends the Hobgoblin to grab it. Hobgoblin succeeds thanks to his sonic scream stunning Spidey, and makes off with a chunk of the metal. Backed into a corner, Peter creates a stealth suit for himself, capable of bending light to make himself practically invisible, insulating himself from sound, and capable of firing Anti-Metal spiders to dissolve other metals. In their climactic dust-up, Hobgoblin accidentally sets off the Reverbium with his scream and Spidey destroys the metal (and building) using the Antarctic vibranium. Comic book science is fun.
2. There was a vibranium “cancer” that caused nearby vibranium products to shatter/explode
There was a point when Steve Rogers lost his trademark shield in the Atlantic Ocean whilst fighting Hydra. He made do with a toughened version of his classic shield for a while, but clearly needed his physics-defying pal back. Tony Stark spent a good deal of money to have it recovered, but when it was finally found and dropped onto the ship’s deck, it shattered. Upon inspection, Stark finds that the shield contained a tiny sub-molecular imperfection that spread throughout the shield and broke it down. Not only that, but the breaking of Cap’s shield caused all the stored energy to violently disperse, culminating in a huge shock wave powerful enough to traverse the entirety of the Earth.
Any and all vibranium caught in the wave will also break down, shatter, and even explode, leading Stark to refer to it as a “sonic cancer”. Steve realizes what will happen when the wave hits the Wakandan Sacred Mound, and jets off to try and stop it. There he meets Ulysses Klaw, and the two throw down. Unbeknownst to Klaw, he ends up saving the day. The sonic waves from Klaw’s weapon fix Cap’s taped-up shield and make it strong enough to re-absorb the huge shock wave.
1. A real-life Vibranium exists
As amazing as it would be, vibranium unfortunately doesn’t exist in our cruel and boring world. Well, the material doesn’t but reality took a cue from the comics and we do actually have a real-life equivalent, although not nearly as versatile and incredible as its comic book counterpart.
Unveiled in May 2016, a company named Hyperloop Transportation Technologies revealed that they have a new wonder material that they’re calling Vibranium in a shout-out to the Marvel comics. This real version of Vibranium is apparently a sensor-embedded carbon fiber “eight times stronger than aluminum and 10 times stronger than steel alternatives,” and will be used to coat passenger transport pods through huge tubes. So, not only do we have Vibranium to call our own, but we may soon be zipped through tubes at 760 mph to get to work. The future’s looking more awesome and science-fictiony by the day.
What else should comic fans know about vibranium? Let us know in the comments.