Avengers: Endgame – The History of Captain America’s Climactic Moment
Remember in Avengers: Endgame when Captain America picked up Thor's hammer? We sure do! Here are other times he did that!
This article consists of nothing but massive Avengers: Endgame spoilers. You’ve been warned. We have a completely spoiler free review right here.
Ever since Thanos showed up in the mid-credits of the first Avengers movie, there was one scenario that most comic book fans knew was going to one day happen: Captain America was going to at one point lift Thor’s hammer Mjolnir and bash Thanos’ stupid face with it. Until Hela broke Mjolnir in Thor: Ragnarok. Then we all went, “Oh, never mind, I guess,” and thought about what could have been.
Well, time travel is funny like that. It gives you a mulligan. Avengers: Endgame gives us one of the most triumphant moments in superhero movie history, when Captain America is able to lift Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, and use it to beat the ever-lovin’ crap out of Thanos for a few minutes. Not only can Captain America lift Thor’s hammer, he’s able to call down the lightning just as Thor would. It’s a huge, cathartic, and historic moment in the history of the MCU, but it’s something long familiar to Marvel Comics fans.
How Can Captain America Lift Thor’s Hammer?
Simple: Steve Rogers is worthy. The inscription on Mjolnir reads “Whosoever holds this hammer, if they be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” It doesn’t matter how strong you are, if you aren’t worthy, you can’t lift Thor’s hammer, no matter how hard you try. It’s why Thor, at a low point in his life, is so relieved to find that he can still call and hold Mjolnir when he travels back to the events of Thor: The Dark World.
In Avengers: Age of Ultron, we got the slightest hint of what was to come when Cap was able to slightly budge the hammer when trying to pick it up. Thor’s reaction shot there was priceless, and teases the moment in Endgame when Steve finally gets to call down the lightning. Of course, the big payoff in Age of Ultron was that Vision (not Cap) was able to wield it near the end of the movie as a way of proving his fidelity, but many of us knew that there was more to it, including Thor, who exclaims “I knew it!” when Cap gets his big moment with the hammer.
There is comic book precedent to Cap picking up Mjolnir. While not the first non-Thor character to pull that off in Marvel canon (that would be the delightful Beta Ray Bill), he’s had a couple moments where he’s been able to prove his worthy worth and cracked some heads with the uru metal.
Here’s some American history with a mix of Asgardian shop class.
The Mighty Thor #390 (1988)
Around this time, Steve Rogers had lost the right to be Captain America and just fought crime as “The Captain.” This meant dressing exactly as Captain America, but in a black costume with red and white stripes on the front. Thor stopped by Avengers HQ, saw this guy with head wings and a shield and went, “I never saw you before in my life! Who are you?!” Then he threw Mjolnir at him in mid-sentence before realizing that it had to be Steve Rogers because of how fast he could dodge the attack.
I swear, Thor must scream, “STRANGER DANGER!” whenever Jane Foster gets a haircut.
Cap later explained his whole status quo, as well as his current feud with Iron Man (that happens a lot). So the government considered him an enemy and he was at odds with Iron Man for ideological reasons. Same as it ever was. While Thor mused over all this, one of his villains, the god Seth, sent an army after him. Cap, of course, helped out his stupid, stupid friend.
Thor dropped his hammer after being tackled by generic grunt Grog. Grog tried to lift Mjolnir, but couldn’t budge it. Instead, he started torturing Thor with a laser. Cap didn’t quite understand the whole “worthy” gimmick at the time and figured it was just really heavy. Even though Grog, a brick shithouse of a miniboss, couldn’t do it, Cap decided it was worth trying.
Wouldn’t you know it, The Captain picked it up and wiped the floor with the dogpiling goon squad. He tossed it back to Thor, who proceeded to finish off the bad guys.
Afterwards, Thor admitted that while he had no idea what was really going on with Steve and Tony’s current argument, he sided with Steve due to his ability to pick up the hammer. Cap nodded, rushed into a Quinjet, and flew off to go break Tony Stark’s nose several times over.
2099: Manifest Destiny (1998)
Even though it’s been brought back a few times since, 2099 was one of Marvel’s big fixtures in the 90s. It was how 90s comics felt the future would be like. The story was that the heroes had long gone missing and there were no surviving records of what happened. Either way, Thor was worshipped as a religious figure and many awaited his return.
When serial-pointer Miguel O’Hara got powers and became the new Spider-Man of the era, someone pointed out that he was the first of many who would take up the mantle of a long-forgotten hero. This would continue until the coming of Thor 2099, who would deliver them all. Sure enough, we got Ghost Rider 2099, Hulk 2099, Punisher 2099, X-Men 2099, etc. After a few years, the line of comics lost its luster and they wrote it off with this one-shot where they found Captain America’s frozen body.
As Steve got accustomed to this new world, Miguel gave him Donald Blake’s walking stick. With a little reluctance, Steve accepted the gift and struck it to the ground, transforming it into Mjolnir and transforming himself into a gaudy Cap/Thor hybrid. He and Miguel started a new Avengers team, but on a space mission, things went haywire and it looked like Captain America was going to be knocked into deep space. His last act was to throw Mjolnir to Miguel, who caught the weapon and turned out to be just as worthy.
Yes, in a wonderful twist, Spider-Man 2099 wasn’t just the herald of Thor 2099. He WAS Thor 2099!
With this power and the slow aging that came with it, Miguel turned the galaxy into a utopia. By the time he was done with his duty in 3099, they discovered Captain America’s frozen body yet again. The poor guy just couldn’t catch a break, but at least he got the hammer back.
THE HELLSCAPE OF APOCALYPSE
What If? Featuring X-Men: Age of Apocalypse (2007)
Age of Apocalypse was a pretty big deal in the ’90s and the world it depicted was a nasty one. At least it had Magneto’s X-Men to make some kind of difference to offset Apocalypse’s evil. Naturally, Marvel’s What If series had a couple of takes on the big event. One had its continuity move forward and show how that Earth would have handled the coming of Galactus. One had Legion succeed in killing Magneto in the past, showing a world where Charles Xavier could better fight for a world where mutants were accepted.
Then there was this ridiculous one-shot where Rick Remender came up with the idea of Legion accidentally killing both Magneto and Xavier. The event had terrible repercussions, leading to governments to discover the existence of mutants earlier and going straight for the persecution. Apocalypse made his big appearance and the world got weirder than in normal Age of Apocalypse continuity. For one, Apocalypse’s army included a nest of Peter Parker clones connected by a big Venom symbiote blob.
The resistance team included the likes of Nate Grey, Molecule Man, Wolverine, Colossus, Thing (with robot arm), Doctor Voodoo (introduced a year or so before Brother Voodoo was the Sorcerer Supreme in canon), Captain Britain in Mach I Iron Man armor, and the leader Captain America. With no real context given, he wielded Mjolnir throughout the story and constantly fought maskless.
The whole issue was mainly these Defenders jumping from one spot to another, facing different threats and gradually losing members. Towards the end, Nate Grey killed Apocalypse, stole his armor, killed Molecule Man, and opened up a portal to the past so they could prevent the deaths of Xavier and Magneto. Fearing that Grey would become a tyrant as bad as Apocalypse himself, Cap killed him via Mjolnir and allowed the portal to close.
He and Wolverine were the only survivors of the adventure.
WAR OF THE WORTHY
Fear Itself (2011)
Fear Itself was a Captain America/Thor crossover idea that Marvel decided to turn into a full-on event. It was…there. The tie-ins were better than the main plot, honestly.
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The Red Skull’s daughter Sin came across a mystical hammer that transformed her into the deity Skadi. She helped unleash forgotten Asgardian god The Serpent, who in turn created seven hammers that would possess and empower those worthy of unleashing fear. They were Hulk, Juggernaut, Thing, Titania, Absorbing Man, Grey Gargoyle, and Attuma. Then Nazis in mechs started swarming Washington DC and the whole thing was a big mess.
Around this time, Bucky Barnes was Captain America and the story partly existed to have Bucky fake his death and move the Cap identity back to Steve Rogers (and you thought Endgame treated the Bucky/Steve relationship poorly?). A lot of good it did for him, as The Serpent was able to shatter the shield with his bare hands.
To turn the tide, Tony Stark and Odin made some special weapons for the superheroes to wield. As for Cap, he simply found Mjolnir lying around on the battlefield and used it to go to town on Skadi. They hyped all this magic weapon stuff up like crazy in the adverts, but the whole thing was really background noise. The fight just kind of ended after Odin pulled away all the hammers and Skadi went back to being Sin.
THE MIRROR MATCH
Secret Empire (2017)
And then there’s this load. Nick Spencer did a lengthy story about Steve Rogers revealing he was really an agent of Hydra all along. Marvel was really adamant that it was really Steve Rogers and that he wasn’t being mind-controlled. Also, the company insisted that Captain America wasn’t a Nazi because Hydra weren’t Nazis. TOTALLY DIFFERENT THING. Because, you see…look over there!
Hydra Cap then turned out to be a version of Steve Rogers created by a little girl with reality-warping powers (sure), who was manipulated by Red Skull. Cap ended up taking over the US and shockingly beat up opposing superheroes via wielding Mjolnir. That too seemed to be a product of the reality-warping as the inscription/rules of the hammer were different and you had to be a bulky Hydra asshole to pick it up.
By the end of the event, the little girl conjured the original version of Captain America to beat up his please-don’t-call-the-Nazi-a-Nazi doppelganger. When Hydra Cap went for the hammer out of desperation, it had already reverted back to normal and he wasn’t worthy enough to pick it up. Regular Cap picked it up and walloped his douchebag counterpart.
“Your ass will never be America’s ass.” (not actual dialogue)
Yeah, everyone knew that the status quo would return in the end, but the whole Hydra Cap business was as well-timed and tactful as showing off your chainsaw and hockey mask to your son, in the middle of the night, when Sideshow Bob is trying to kill him. It also killed the end of Gerry Duggan’s otherwise legendary Deadpool run, which I can never forgive.
There’s only been five comic scenarios where we’ve seen Captain America wielding Mjolnir, so let’s just move those goalposts a little and talk about times when superheroes have kicked ass with the shield AND the hammer at the same time.
First up is Crusader from an issue of What If based on the original Secret Wars that showed what would have happened had all the heroes and villains been stranded on Battleworld for 25 years. While some died in that time, others got busy and we got a new generation of heroes and villains. One of which was Sarah Rogers, daughter of Cap and Rogue.
No, the comic doesn’t answer the question of how that conception worked.
Even though her boyfriend Bravado was the son of Thor and Enchantress, it was Crusader who ended up being able to pick up the hammer and turn the tide against Vincent Von Doom. She also had stolen her dad’s shield from his closet when he wasn’t looking, but that’s less impressive.
Then there’s Superman. The miniseries JLA/Avengers was the final crossover between Marvel and DC and it finished with a bang. Leading both hero teams into battle, Superman was entrusted with Captain America’s shield. During a pivotal moment, in order to break into the villain Krona’s stronghold, Thor threw Mjolnir to Superman. Superman caught it and smashed his way in.
Later on, after the dust had cleared, Superman found himself no longer able to lift it. As Thor put it, Odin may be strict, but he knows when to cut you slack when times are desperate.
I have to imagine we’ll be seeing more Cap/Mjolnir moments going forward. Marvel really seems to enjoy having comics imitate movies that imitate comics. God, remember when Spider-Man 3 came out and comic Spider-Man just happened to start wearing black again?
Gavin Jasper writes for Den of Geek and when Captain America throws his mighty hammer, all those who attempt to…stammer that hammer must clamor…? Read his other articles here and follow him on Twitter @Gavin4L