Marvel

Mjolnir, Thor’s magical hammer forged by dwarven blacksmiths out of the enchanted metal uru, has a history of being picky about who can pick it up. If the hammer thinks a person is worthy of its power, hefting it’s no big deal. So how the hell the Hydra fascist formerly known as Captain America, waving it around?

This year’s Free Comic Book Day edition of Marvel’s Secret Empire picks up right where issue #0 of the series left off. Steve, along with an entire fleet of helicarriers Hydra hijacked from S.H.I.E.L.D, is invading Washington D.C. with the intention of taking over the White House. As all of the earth’s heroes who aren’t either trapped in space or tied up in NYC dealing with the recently escaped Pleasant Hill criminals show up to D.C. to fend off Hydra, they’re shocked to discover that it’s Steve who’s leading the attack.

As the realization that Captain America betrayed everyone begins to sink in, Tony Stark, Vision, and Jane Foster/Thor are among the first to charge into battle, and then things start to get weird. Almost immediately, everyone on the field not fighting for Hydra begins to lose control of their powers. The Scarlet Witch seemingly has another mental breakdown, the Vision starts speaking in a panicked binary as his systems malfunction, and, strangest of all, Thor drops her hammer.

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There’s no explanation as to how any of this is happening and then, while everyone else looks on in horror, Steve walks up to Mjolnir and just picks it up like it’s no big deal. The issue ends with a declaration that in that one particular moment, Steve—and Hydra by extension—are worthy of the hammer which is...a weird thing to say.

Add to the fact that Secret Empire #1 doesn’t even address any of this battle, it’s perplexing to parse what Spencer’s saying here.

The inscription etched into Mjolnir’s side lays out its personal rules about who may wield it pretty directly: “Whosoever holds this hammer, if they be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.”

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There have been a number of people besides the Odinson who’ve managed to lift Mjolnir in the past, Jason Aaron’s run of The Unworthy Thor has given us the clearest explanation of just what worthiness means to the hammer.

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In The Unworthy Thor #5, we learn that Odinson became unworthy when Nick Fury Sr. echoed Gorr the God Butcher’s idea that gods had forsaken the mortals who worshipped them. This prompts Mjolnir to seek out a new wielder better suited to protect humanity and throws Odinson into an existential crisis. This reading of Mjolnir’s enchantment says something about the hammer’s sense of morality. While Odinson desperately wants to pick Mjolnir back up, the hammer refuses him ostensibly because it wants to fulfill its responsibility of being a tool for justice.

And that’s what makes the narrative optics of Steve Rogers being able to hoist Mjolnir so unsettling. We’ve seen that the hammer doesn’t respond just to the desires of people who want it, but is sentient enough to be able to read a person’s intentions. Nick Spencer himself has stated that Hydra and Steve Rogers are the villains of Secret Empire who are literally trying to take over the world.

If Steve’s intentions are as evil as everything about Secret Empire has suggested, then how can he also be worthy?