WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Secret Empire: Free Comic Book Day
Captain America may have become a Hydra-loyal, fascist dictator, but according to Marvel Comics he's still worthy of Thor's hammer, Mjolnir. That bombshell made its debut in the Secret Empire: Free Comic Book Day issue acting as a fill-in story between the Secret Empire #0 that saw Captain America take over America, and the Secret Empire #1 that followed up by showing some Avengers had joined Hydra, too. The moment fans missed may be the biggest, or most controversial yet, as Steve Rogers raises Thor's hammer... after stealing it from the god of thunder, not rightly claiming it.
The moment in which Steve Roger lifts Mjolnir was actually spoiled weeks ago, promising that the Secret Empire event would be an even bigger shock to the Marvel Universe than Steve Rogers joining Hydra to some, and a sign that Marvel and writer Nick Spencer's 'blasphemy' was only gaining speed. After all, Mjolnir is where the Asgardian power of a god rests, only to be lifted by those deemed "worthy." So what is Marvel saying if this Captain America - who helped the Nazis win World War II - is still as noble and virtuous as ever...?
Captain America Turns Avengers To Hydra
The release schedule of these Secret Empire books has actually defied chronological order, so for those curious to read the story as it unfolds, be sure to read Captain America: Steve Rogers #16, then Secret Empire #0, now Secret Empire: FCBD, and finally Secret Empire #1. The issue we're focusing on is the Free Comic Book Day, by writer Nick Spencer and artist Andrea Sorrentino, filling in the events that immediately followed Cap's Hydra takeover from the perspective of the street-level heroes. Specifically, Spider-Man, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Thor, etc. before they even knew that Steve Rogers was the one to blame for this unexpected blow to Earth's heroes.
The story is told in hindsight, delivered with narration from the heroes explaining the emotions and limited understanding at the time (the same with Secrete Empire #0). And while Issue #1 showing Thor, Vision, and Scarlet Witch on Hydra's side was expected to be a massive story in itself... the answer is a bit less shocking. The heroes fight valiantly against their foes, before the unknown, new leader of Hydra arrives - confirming their unspeakable fear that Steve Rogers has truly betrayed them. And things go from bad to downright unfathomable.
Scarlet Watch is struck by some kind of mystical/magical attack, sending her into uncontrolled, flying convulsions. Given the look on her face, it seems Steve Roger found a way to brainwash her, or take control of her mind and powers. Meanwhile, Vision is seemingly overwhelmed by a technology-based attack from Cap's forces, leaving him spouting off a long string of 1s and 0s... and using his powers of density manipulation to turn current Thor (Jane Foster) intangible. Intangible, as in 'incapable of holding anything, let alone Mjolnir.'
Captain America Claims Thor's Hammer
With Mjolnir resting unwielded on the ground, since its rightful owner is currently... somewhere, unable to hold a solid form, it's ripe for the picking. The moment is stretched out by Spencer and Sorrentino, with some truly inspired artwork fragmenting the action and shock of the other heroes alongside Cap's fingers wrapping around the Hammer's handle. Thanks to the previous leak, most fans will know what comes next, but Spencer continues to drive home the idea that Earth's heroes are absolutely, unequivocally outmatched by Steve Rogers and his Hydra empire (and former Nazi-allied scientists and leaders).
Like, really, really, outmatched, everyone. Almost embarrassingly outmatched. As the narrator says, Captain America and his allies are "stronger... more powerful... in that moment... they were worthy." And with those final words, the sudden attack leaves the combined might of Earth's still-heroic heroes standing, slack-jawed, as Captain America - having betrayed them all, killed countless of his former allies and more under his protection - raises the hammer above his head, still worthy enough to do so.
It's where the issue ends, having more than established why the heroes that survived this fight into Secret Empire #1 are truly a long shot resistance (drawn in the image of Star Wars' own Rebel Alliance). But it leaves fans with one big question, or criticism.
How is Steve Rogers Still 'Worthy' of Mjolnir?
It's clear at this point that those not on board with Nick Spencer's story, style, tone, or response to criticism are only going to be pushed farther into disbelief by this reveal. The foremost reason being that having lifted Mjolnir in the past as a paragon of nobility, sacrifice, service, and justice, having reality restored to Captain America fighting for the Nazis in service to Hydra, committing murder, and betraying his fellow heroes haven't affected his "worthiness" in the slightest.
For some, the above image will be an insult to the characters of both Captain America and Thor, with Odinson having recently decided that he would not claim the Ultimate Mjolnir for himself, despite being worthy, because it had not called to him (a demonstration of what 'being worthy' really mean). For others who view it as a simple impossibility or contrived bombshell, it will show how much of Marvel's history and mythology this one story is willing to betray for 'shock value,' or headline-grabbing, jaw-dropping twists.
They're fair points to make, since even casual readers may have a hard time believing that Steve is still worthy of Mjolnir - especially since he used deceit and trickery to remove it from its true master's hands, effectively stealing it without it even caring. Which means they likely won't even be considered by those enjoying the story, enjoying the flood of unexpected spectacle and changing stakes, and the impression that anything is possible with Steve Rogers at the head of Hydra. It's a thrilling read for many, without arguing that Marvel is somehow embracing Cap's fascism in any way beyond story.
And as this scene shows, Marvel is correct in claiming that all his misdeeds and betrayals haven't changed Steve Rogers's "core values" at all. That even at the head of a fascist dictatorship, Captain America is a hero at heart. It's not just the writer, editor, or publisher saying it, either: Mjolnir itself is backing them up.
Secret Empire: Free Comic Book Day is available now.