WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Secret Empire #10
Marvel has finally admitted what fans already knew: the evil Captain America of Secret Empire was NEVER worthy of lifting Thor's Hammer. It was a moment delivered for obvious shock value, sending a clear message to both the readers and the heroes of the Marvel Universe that Steve Rogers's betrayal and loyalty to Hydra wasn't deception or misunderstanding. And when the Avengers saw their former friend embrace fascism, tyranny, and brutality - and still be worthy of Mjolnir - the true impact of his Secret Empire landed with devastating impact.
Now, Marvel has given up the charade of Steve Rogers being both evil AND worthy. For the record, the event itself (delivered in the Free Comic Book Day issue of Secret Empire) cast serious doubt on Steve's honor - since he first had to steal Mjolnir out of Thor's hand before he could demonstrate that he was still worthy to raise it. He stopped short of claiming the power of Thor for himself, and now that the REAL Captain America has returned to defeat him, we all know why.
And just as important, how he managed to fool the Marvel Universe in the first place.
The Lie: Hydra Captain America is Worthy
It's a hard scene to forget, but just in case anybody has, a summary of what led up to the raising of Thor's hammer is a simple one. In the timeline of the Secret Empire event, the large battle between Cap's Hydra forces and the heroes of the Marvel Universe took place early on. So early, in fact, that the heroes were still unclear on just what Cap's role in the takeover really was (it's not the first time fans, or heroes have seen evil organizations infiltrate reputable, honorable agencies). But Steve Rogers made sure that the doubts about his dedication and loyalty would end on day one.
With the heroes battling Hydra forces claiming to be led by America's most iconic hero, Steve Rogers arrived to stride out upon the battlefield himself. With Hydra at his back, he launched his master stroke to cripple the Avengers before all present. Thor was phased out of existence leaving her hammer unwielded, and without missing a beat, Steve raised it above his head. The moment shocked everyone who saw it (real or fictional), and casting serious doubt upon the logic of the Secret Empire event - especially when writer Nick Spencer confirmed, or at least strongly implied Cap really did raise the hammer.
Well, Secret Empire's final issue reveals that Cap DID raise Mjolnir in the above scene, with one key difference: it wasn't Mjolnir.
The Truth: Evil Captain America Was Never Worthy
As mentioned above, the truth comes out when the 'real' Captain America returns to defeat Hydra's empire, facing off with his evil doppelganger (before either of them can explain how Steve's return is even possible). A healthy exchange of superhuman punches and kicks - and a recreation of Civil War's most iconic moment - later, and it looks like the fight won't be decided one way or the other. Until both men spy Mjolnir resting exactly where the evil Captain America left it as a reminder to all who would oppose his will.
Both men lunge for the hammer, but the Hydra version of Steve Rogers gets there first... and can't move it an inch. The disembodied, omnipotent narrator of Secret Empire then provides a flashback to the infamous scene, explaining the lie that made it all possible. As it turns out, even Steve wasn't aware that as he approached Mjolnir, Elisa Sinclair (Steve's most trusted ally, mentor, and Madame Hydra) used a secret fragment of the Cosmic Cube to alter reality. Specifically, the inscription (and powers) of Mjolnir:
"Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be STRONGEST, shall possess the power of HYDRA."
Steve Rogers believed he was raising Mjolnir, believe himself worth and untarnished, making even him a victim to the true architect of Hydra's rise to power. Fortunately, the real Captain America is as worthy of Mjolnir as he's ever been - and is happy to remind his evil opponent.
The Punishment: The REAL Captain America
It's hard to know which hurts the Hydra Steve Rogers more: the sudden realization that his own belief in his mission was likely reinforced by manipulation and deception, convincing him that he was as noble and virtuous as ever despite opposition... or taking a blow from Mjolnir. We would wager the latter, but unfortunately, the Hydra Steve Rogers' fate is still a bit of a mystery. He's knocked unconscious by the hammer blow (obviously), meaning he never gets to offer a rebuttal, or even a change of opinion given the revealed deception.
Kobik, the sentient Cosmic Cube that brought Captain America back into reality immediately 'resets' the Marvel Universe, but not cleanly enough to say HydraCap is erased, as well. The altered history of World War II and Cap's Hydra role is undone, but the damage left by HydraCap remains so it will never be forgotten. The most obvious solution is that Kobik simply 'erased' the evil Hydra Captain America, and allowed the 'true' Steve Rogers to take his place (even though that Steve had been previously wiped from existence, and reincarnated from Kobik's memory).
If that's the case, then Mjolnir doesn't have just one pivotal role in Captain America's Secret Empire sag, but two. First, the Asgardian hammer showed why there was no use resisting. Later, it became the very tool with which good triumphed over evil.
Pretty poetic... even if Marvel fooled readers the first time around.
Secret Empire #10 is available now.