FALLOUT Series Reveals Who Vault Boy Really Is and the Origin Story of His Thumbs-Up

Vault-Tec’s Vault Boy mascot is one of Fallout‘s most iconic symbols. Even those who have never played the games can likely recognize the grinning blue-and-yellow-clad figure and his association with the world. So, of course, Vault Boy had to appear in Prime Video’s Fallout series adaptation. But no one could have expected the fascinating origin story that the Fallout show crafted for Vault Boy and his notorious thumbs-up. In a way, we got to see an unexpected live-action Vault Boy interlude—something we bet no one had on their bingo cards.

Prime Video Fallout series tells the origin story of Vault Boy and why he gives a thumbs up
Prime Video

The TV series adaptation, which is set in the games’ canon world, not only remained true to the existing universe but also evolved it. And nowhere is this more evident than with the lore the series added to Vault Boy. So, just who is Vault Boy? And what are the true Fallout origins of this symbol and his thumbs-up? Here’s what the Fallout series revealed about Vault-Tec’s emblematic mascot.

Spoiler Alert

Jump to: Who is Vault Boy? Cooper Howard as the Original Vault-Tec Mascot // What Is Vault Boy’s Origin Story in Fallout Canon? // Who Is Cooper Howard? // How Vault Boy Got His Trademark Thumbs-Up in Fallout // Vault Boy Replaces Cooper Howard // Prime Video’s Fallout Series Reveals a Second Reason Why Vault Boy Gives a Thumbs Up // The Fallout Series Evolves the Games’ Canon with Vault Boy Story

Who Is Vault Boy? Cooper Howard as the Original Vault-Tec Mascot

Cooper Howard as a spokesperson for the Vault-Tec vaults in Fallout series
Prime Video

So, who is Fallout‘s Vault Boy? Well, before the release of the Prime Video series, the answer would have just been Vault-Tec’s chief mascot, a grinning blonde figure who often has a thumbs-up ready to go and wears a yellow and blue Vault-Tec suit. Vault Boy appears on everything from ads to games to manuals to training films in Fallout‘s world and endures even beyond a nuclear apocalypse. Outside the in-universe story of Fallout, Vault Boy and his thumbs-up also often surface in the games for more technical reasons. Vault Boy represents player stats, shows up when players unlock achievements, and serves as an overall mascot of the Fallout games in the real world.

But thanks to the Fallout live-action series, we have a literal answer to the question, “Who is Vault Boy?” It turns out the original Vault Boy is an actor named Cooper Howard (later known as the Ghoul), who was hired by Vault-Tec to represent the brand in a series of print ads and commercials. Though Cooper Howard’s ad campaigns seem successful, Howard eventually turns against the brand. The series reveals that Vault-Tec then creates an illustrated rendition of his image to be their mascot. And thus, Fallout‘s Vault Boy is born from Cooper Howard.

What Is Vault Boy’s Origin Story in Fallout?

Let’s dive into all the details of Vault Boy’s now-canon Fallout origin story, which begins with the tale of Cooper Howard.

Who Is Cooper Howard?

Cooper Howard with Vault-Tec executive wife Barb
Prime Video

Cooper Howard (later known as the Ghoul) is one of the main characters in Fallout, so it makes sense that he plays a critical role in the creation of Vault Boy. When we first meet Cooper Howard, it is at a time the Fallout games barely explore: the time before the Great War. At this point in the Fallout timeline, though tensions are escalating and the world is bracing for nuclear war, life also continues as normal. And initially, Cooper Howard appears as just another all-American ’50s man, living the country’s dream.

We learn that Cooper Howard is a famous actor known for his roles in cowboy movies and Westerns. Some of his movies include The Man from Deadhorse and The Man and His Dog. He and his nuclear family, his wife and daughter, live a cushy life in Los Angeles. Cooper Howard is largely sheltered from the more ominous concerns of the day. Howard, however, is married to a Vault-Tec executive. As a favor to her and likely for a significant sum of money, Howard agrees to become the face of and spokesperson for the Vault-Tec brand just as it intensifies its push to sell Vaults ahead of potential nuclear warfare. And thus, the first steps toward Fallout‘s Vault Boy are taken.

Fallout‘s Cooper Howard Gives Vault Boy His Trademark Thumbs-Up (And Even His Suit Color)

Cooper Howard becomes Vault Boy in blue and yellow vault-tec suit with thumbs up
Prime Video

Prime Video’s Fallout series cleverly sets the scene for the audience’s realization that Cooper Howard is actually Vault Boy. When the time finally arrives for Cooper Howard to shoot his first Vault-Tec ad campaign, what does he have to put on? Why, it’s a yellow and blue Vault-Tec suit As she hands him the Vault-Tec suit, Cooper Howard’s wife, Barbara, notes to Cooper, who is wearing a blue and yellow sheriff costume from the movie he is currently filming, “They even made it in your color.” It sounds like Fallout‘s Vault-Tec and Vault Boy even got their blue and yellow color scheme from Cooper Howard.

Cooper in his sheriff outfit with his child
Prime Video

Right before the Fallout series shows us Cooper Howard’s actual Vault-Tec photoshoot, it juxtaposes Howard’s future persona, the Ghoul, with a Vault Boy image. Then Fallout immediately flashes to Cooper Howard in the eminent Vault-Tec suit, and the vision of Vault Boy starts to take shape.

During the Vault-Tec photoshoot, Cooper Howard awkwardly goes through a bunch of poses before exclaiming, “Hey, I have an idea; what if I were to do like a thumbs-up.” And that, folks, is officially the Fallout origin story of Vault Boy and his trademark thumbs-up. Cooper Howard settles into the pose with a grin, and the first incarnation of Vault Boy is born.

Cooper Howard Turns on Vault-Tec

For a time, Cooper Howard, not Vault Boy, remains the face of the Vault-Tec brand. In the initial advertisement shoot scene and in later commercials and ads shown in the Fallout series, we see Cooper Howard offer a few more of Vault Boy’s trademark poses. We see Cooper Howard giving a familiar wink, a hands-on-hips pose, and more of Vault Boy’s greatest hits from Fallouts‘ games. But things between Cooper Howard and Vault-Tec soon go very sour.

Cooper Howard doing the Vault Boy wink in the Fallout Tv series
Prime Video

Cooper Howard initially believes his wife and Vault-Tec are trying to save the world. But he soon learns they are actually arranging for its destruction. In fact, Cooper Howard unearths the most harrowing secret of all: Vault-Tec actually intends to facilitate the dropping of nuclear bombs so that it can not only make money selling its vaults but also take control of the world.

Vault Boy Replaces Cooper Howard

A billboard of Vault Boy peeling away to reveal Cooper Howard
Prime Video

Although we’ll likely see more of this in season two, Fallout implies Cooper Howard does not take this news sitting down. Whatever happens specifically between himself, his wife, and Vault-Tec, it leads to Cooper Howard’s ostracization from Hollywood. Of course, Vault-Tec also removes Cooper Howard from his position as the face of the company. Instead, it seems that Vault-Tec takes Cooper Howard’s image, thumbs-up, and smile and creates the illustrated Vault Boy mascot instead. And so Vault Boy takes over as Fallout‘s main symbol, and Cooper Howard is lost to time.

fallout 4 Vault Boy
Bethesda Game Studios

Cementing this, in the end credits of Fallout‘s third episode, we see a peeling billboard of Vault Boy and his thumbs up giving way to Cooper Howard and his thumbs up. The visual narrative lets us know that at some point, Vault-Tec covered up Cooper Howard with an image of Vault Boy, the mascot he originated.

Prime Video’s Fallout Series Reveals a Second Reason Why Vault Boy Gives a Thumbs Up

Fallout Prime Video TV Series nuclear explosions
Prime Video

The Fallout series offers a second reason why Vault Boy gives a thumbs-up. In a flashback that takes place just before the nuclear bombs drop on the world, Cooper Howard, a war veteran, explains to his daughter that the thumbs-up can be used to gauge danger if one sees an explosion.

Cooper Howard demonstrates a thumbs-up and shares, “Well, back when I was in the Marines, they taught us that if they ever drop a really big bomb, they told us to hold up your thumb just like this. And if the cloud is smaller than your thumb then you run for the hills…” Naturally, his daughter asks what happens if the cloud is bigger than your thumb. And Howard responds, “They told us not to bother running.” Of course, right at that moment, nuclear bombs drop onto the world.

Given what the Fallout series reveals about Vault-Tec’s culpability for the nuclear explosions, the anecdote certainly adds a dark, ironic element to Vault Boy’s thumbs-up.

Vault Boy’s Origin Story Is a Brilliant Edition to Fallout‘s Canon

Cooper Howard or the Ghoul looking at an image of himself as Vault Boy
Prime Video

Sometimes, series adaptations that must remain canonical can feel inert. But Fallout feels in no such way. The fact that the Prime Video series dared to take such bold steps and actually add to Fallout‘s canon improves the series. Now we know that every time we see Vault Boy, we are really seeing Cooper Howard and the Ghoul he will become.

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