The upcoming Wonder Woman 1984 is set to feature two villains, and I am writing up a spotlight on each. First up is a character who has been both a hero and a villain, and it wasn’t until 2006 that they were even associated with Wonder Woman so directly.
Maxwell Lord IV or Max Lord for short was first introduced in the pages of Justice League #1 (1987) written by Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis with art by Kevin Maguire. Max was a man working behind the scenes to establish a new Justice League in the wake of the Crisis on Infinite Earths. His motivations for doing this have been all over the place with retcons changing them at least twice. The original series revealed that Max was being pushed by a villainous computer created by the New God Metron, a story that was resolved in the first year of the new team’s title. This is why Max is so manipulative, staging terrorist attacks on the United Nations and hiring the supervillains The Royal Flush Gang to create publicity for the team. Once Max is free of mental manipulation, he settles into being an opportunistic businessman typical of the 1980s.
The next significant change in Max’s life came during 1989’s Invasion! crossover event. I reviewed this storyline last summer, but the short of it is an alliance of aliens worried about the proliferation of superhumans on Earth launches a surprising attack to destroy these potential adversaries. After being seemingly defeated, the Alliance detonates a gene bomb activating the latent metahuman potential within some of the human population. Max ends up being one of these and gains the ability to control minds. A pretty dangerous ability in the hands of someone like Max and a power that will come to define his character for the next thirty-plus years.
When Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis decided they wanted to wrap up their run on Justice League, they did so with an epic 15-part storyline called Breakdowns that crossover over between Justice League America and Justice League Europe. This story kicks off with Max being shot in the head by a would-be assassin and placed in a coma. Dreamslayer, one of many antagonists in this story, takes over Max’s body and throws his mind control into high gear allowing him to manipulate thousands of people. Dreamslayer goes about dismantling the League by causing the loss of its United Nations charter. The League members figure out this isn’t their leader and are forced to fight the possessed Max. Once Dreamslayer exits the body, Max’s power appears to have been burned out and is diagnosed with a brain tumor and dies.
As anyone who is a fan of comic books knows, death is never permanent unless you are highly unpopular. During their time on Justice League, Giffen & DeMatteis had created a parallel universe very obviously an homage to Marvel Comics. Dreamslayer was one of the villains from that world, based on the Doctor Strange antagonist Dormammu. Another was Lord Havok, a definite nod to the Fantastic Four’s Doctor Doom. These villains were seemingly killed, but robot duplicates were built, and after Max’s death, the villain Kilg%re downloaded the businessman’s consciousness into the Havok robot’s body. For a short while, Max didn’t know he was himself and was convinced he was this Lord Havok individual and plagued the Justice League as a nemesis.
Eventually, when Max became aware, he manipulated his robot form so that it resembled his old human body, and he regained his sanity. The members of the 1980s League are reunited under the moniker “Super Buddies.” This is a “heroes for hire” type of outfit whose membership consisted of Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Captain Atom, Fire, L-Ron, Mary Marvel, Elongated Man, and his wife, Sue. This group had stories similar to their original adventures and popped up in a couple of mini-series in the early 2000s. Max is very much back in form during this period without any real deviation from his original character.
Everything changed in 2005 as D.C. Comics began leading up to their 20th-anniversary celebration of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Things kicked off with Countdown, a one-shot that featured the Blue Beetle stumbling across a conspiracy woven throughout the DCU and failing to convince allies and old friends of its legitimacy. Eventually, Beetle finds his way to the headquarters of Checkmate, DC’s equivalent to Marvel’s SHIELD. The hero discovers that Max Lord has covertly taken control of Checkmate, and his former boss promptly murders Blue Beetle in cold blood. Those final pages were quite chilling for longtime fans of that light-hearted era of the Justice League.
Max’s story continued in the pages of The OMAC Project mini-series, where he is shown to be in control of Brother Eye, a satellite system Batman originally created to monitor superhumans. Max has used Brother Eye to create a nano-virus that turns random humans into OMACs, superpowered cyborgs that can carry out attacks on metahumans. This leads to the reveal that Max has somehow regained his mind control powers, and he sends Superman off on a wild goose chase for a month with the hero believing all his foes are after him. Eventually, Superman is pitted against Wonder Woman, who decides the only way to stop this madness is to kill Max Lord. She does exactly that, snapping his neck, not aware Brother Eye is selectively broadcasting this to the world so that they perceive Wonder Woman as killing Lord unwarranted.
For the next few years, Lord would posthumously be a significant point of storylines, his murder fueling the Infinite Crisis event and popping up in the pages of Booster Gold’s comic as he tried to save his friend Blue Beetle by traveling back in time. The zombie of Max Lord would try to get his revenge in the Blackest Night crossover, which saw dead heroes and villains brought back to life by the Green Lantern villain The Black Hand. In this event’s conclusion, a White Ring of Life is created and allows several D.C. characters to come back from the dead. Max happens to be one but finds his mind control powers are causing him immense pain.
This time around, Max is the main antagonist in the pages of Justice League: Generation Lost, a year-long bi-weekly series that once again reunited the 1980s team. In these pages, readers finally got an explanation of what happened to Max to make him such a villain. The writers retold his history and have his mother become one of the many victims killed in the Coast City attack by Mongul. Max puts the blame on superheroes as Mongul was motivated to attack based on past animosity with Superman. Thus, the business mogul devotes his energy to try and eliminate all metahuman life on Earth. That was his reasoning behind the OMAC Project and the convoluted plot of Generation Lost. Max does escape in the end, vowing his revenge, which never comes because, in 2011, D.C. Comics decided to reboot its universe with the New 52.
In this rebooted reality, Max is still the head of Checkmate and runs the Cadmus Project, a genetic manipulation program. He takes control of this new reality’s Brother Eye satellite, but instead of the army of soldiers that he wants a single OMAC, a Hulk-like hero is created. Max becomes one of the antagonists for this character. His next big splash comes when D.C. rolls out its Rebirth event, an attempt to take a step back from New 52 without rebooting everything.
In the pages of Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, Max assembles a team of villains (Doctor Polaris, Emerald Empress, Johnny Sorrow, Rustam, and Lobo) to take down Amanda Waller. Waller, in turn, brings in the Justice League to protect herself. The Superman of the New 52 reality had recently died, and the Superman of the previous DCU had replaced him at this point. It is this Superman who remembers Max and their encounter during The OMAC Project incident. Lord gets his hands on the Heart of Darkness, a massive purple crystal that communes with the dark god Eclipso. Lord uses a shard of this to turn the Justice League evil, and the Suicide Squad must fight them. By the story’s end, Lord is fully possessed by Eclipso, then immobilized by Superman and Killer Frost. The story ends with Lord locked up in a special cell using a device that will thin his blood if he attempts to use his mind control abilities. And that is the last we have seen of Max Lord in the DCU with that being 2017.
Max has shown up twice on television. First, on Smallville played by Gil Bellows and then on Supergirl played by Peter Facinelli. Pedro Pascal, of The Mandalorian, is playing him in Wonder Woman 1984. It appears this version of the character will be the 80s businessman mixed with the mind-controlling villain he would eventually become. I wonder if we will see the iconic scene where Wonder Woman is forced to kill Max played out in the film. It’s also unclear what his connection will be with the movie’s other villain, The Cheetah. Keep a lookout for her spotlight coming soon.