“We were supposed to be heroes,” begins the Free Comic Book Day issue of “Secret Empire.” “We were supposed to stand for something…” The 10-page story comes three days after the release of “Secret Empire” #1 but takes place months before that issue, and details the early hours of the Hydra takeover of there United States.
“It’s hard to say when it all started going wrong," the narration continues. “But at some point we let the fight become about us—not about the world we’d sworn to protect.” The anonymous narrator hints at a fractured superhero community, but those words could easily also reflect reader frustration at the string of comic book events that have pitted heroes against each other for years. Writer Nick Spencer appears to not only be setting the stage for “Secret Empire” but also signaling to event-fatigued readers that this is Marvel’s last major crossover for a while.
The takeover is swift. Hydra’s all-out assault catches the superhero community by surprise. As its members are overwhelmed by the complexity of the attack, some begin to suspect the identity of its architect. However, that does nothing to lessen the horror as Steve Rogers reveals himself as the head of the reformed Hydra Council.
Spencer and artist Andrea Sorrentino pack a lot of action into this slim prelude to “Secret Empire” #1, which reveals both how the heroes of the Marvel Universe fall and why some of them are forced into fighting at Captain America’s side.
The shocking final page depicts Steve Rogers raising Mjolnir, with the defeated heroes lying at his feet. It's a shocking image that some have decried for playing into the hands of those white supremacists who have co-opted Norse iconography. But within the Marvel Universe, Thor’s hammer has a different connotation: The enchanted weapon can only be wielded by those deemed worthy.
Because Rogers wielded Mjolnir in the past, his continued ability to do so, even as he overthrows the U.S. government and betrays his comrades, suggests at his core he is unchanged. This may be the same man who sees the world in black and white, and who is committed to doing the right thing at all costs. But the right thing has changed because reality has been warped through the repeated use of a Cosmic Cube. His values may have shifted, and he may have been deceived, but if this is the same Steve Rogers we know; he is a pillar of virtue. That's why he hesitates before performing acts of cruelty, and has to be goaded by his fellow members of the Hydra Council into not showing any compassion.
But there's a second, more disturbing possibility: If Rogers is evil, there's still a way for him to wield Mjolnir. A morality-manipulation spell can trick the enchanted hammer into considering its controller to be worthy or unworthy. The Scarlet Witch is known to have cast such a spell, and it may be within the scope of Madame Hydra’s powers to do so. It's therefore possible Rogers has used magic to give himself power over the weapon.
It could also be that, when the Allies created the first Cosmic Cube and altered reality to reverse Hydra’s victory at the end of World War II, they unintentionally changed Mjolnir, or the concept of worthiness itself
Regardless of how or why Steve Rogers is able to yield Mjonlir, the fact that he can is a very powerful symbol. That may explain why some heroes, including Odinson, appear to have rallied to his cause in “Secret Empire” #1, but there's certainly more to this development than meets the eye.
Marvel's "Secret Empire" #2, by Nick Spencer and Andrea Sorrentino, goes on sale May 17.