The Mandalorian’s Pedro Pascal is about to face off against Princess Diana of Themyscira in the upcoming Wonder Woman 1984. Pascal will play ’80s businessman and TV salesman Maxwell Lord. In the pages of DC Comics, he’s tied into one of the darkest chapters in Wonder Woman’s heroic career. But before that ever happened, would you believe he ran the Justice League for years? This is the comic book backstory of Maxwell Lord IV, CEO of Lord Enterprises, and an important player in modern DC history.
The Justice League Years
Maxwell Lord was first introduced in Justice League #1, back in 1987. This revival series saw the League reform after the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Lord was the stereotype of the high powered ’80s businessman. The mysterious CEO became the behind-the-scenes puppet master of the newly re-formed League, and recruited several new members like Booster Gold. At first, the League was highly distrustful of his motives, and kept a close on on their new billionaire benefactor.
By the end of the first year of this new Justice League series, Maxwell Lord’s true motivations were revealed. It was shown in a flashback that as a young spelunker, he came across an ancient computer system created by the New God Metron. This computer wanted to ensure global peace, mostly in the name of its own survival, and tasked Lord with creating the ultimate peace-keeping force. Thus, he bankrolled and organized this new Justice League, and staged several events to give the team International status with the United Nations. The all-new Justice League International was born under his watch.
Over the run of the JLI comic and its many spin-offs, Lord was shown as a bit of a greasy con man who could be more than a little amoral at times. But his goals were ultimately noble, even if his means were not always so. Given the comedic bent of this version of the League, Lord was also often portrayed as being sardonically funny. Once his backstory was revealed, there was no longer any hint of his being a bonafide villain.
During the five-year run of JLI, Lord eventually developed the power to control minds. This came about when an alien “gene bomb” activated the latent metahuman DNA in many otherwise ordinary people.
At one point during this era, he was temporarily possessed by the inter-dimensional Dreamslayer, who amped up his mind control powers several notches. Not long after being freed from Dreamslayer’s control, Lord was shot and nearly killed, and his mental powers seemingly burned out.
After this, he left the League to run themselves without him, and for a long time Maxwell Lord seemingly disappeared from comics.
Transformation into a Villain
After sitting out much of the ’90s, Maxwell Lord returned with a vengeance in the 2005 mini-series Infinite Crisis; this era of Lord’s story would come to feature his collision with Wonder Woman. When his former JLI teammate Blue Beetle uncovered a vast conspiracy at the heart of the DC Universe, it was revealed that Lord was part of the secret cabal known as Checkmate all along. It turned out that his goal while running the JLI had been to make them look ineffectual, all in an effort to smear the metahuman community. When Blue Beetle refused to join his nefarious mission, Lord shot him in the head and killed him.
This was a massive retcon to the character. The old JLI comics were created in the era of thought balloons, so the reader had access to Lord’s inner dialogue, and none of his inner thoughts had ever suggested that his agenda wasn’t ultimately a good (albeit flawed) one. During the events of Infinite Crisis, Lord also took control the Brother Eye satellite system to create an army of nano-infected humans to hunt down and destroy super powered individuals.
But his worst crime was when he used his mind control powers (which reemerged with no explanation) to take over the mind of Superman. Now with a Kryptonian killing machine at his disposal, Lord was unstoppable. In an effort to save the day, Wonder Woman ensnared Lord in her Lasso of Truth. A taunting Lord told Diana that the only way to release Superman from his thrall was for her to kill him, thinking she would never do it. But the Amazon princess surprised him and the world by fatally snapping Lord’s neck. (In front of cameras broadcasting live to the entire world, no less.)
This one event caused huge ripples in Diana’s life. Superman and Batman were adamant that she could have found another way, while Diana insisted that it was her only option. She was ultimately exonerated by the wold courts, but the event haunted Wonder Woman for years. As a result, she vowed to never take another human life.
When Lord’s corpse was reanimated as a Black Lantern during the Blackest Night event, he came straight for Wonder Woman to mess with her mind. He was fully resurrected in the subsequent Brightest Day event, but he’s never been portrayed as anything but a bad guy since the mid 2000s.
After this incident, fans looked at Lord as one of Wonder Woman’s her greatest nemeses. He was even used as an antagonist in Grant Morrison’s Wonder Woman: Earth One graphic novel series, and has popped up in other non-comics media over the years. He appeared as a version of his mogul persona in Justice League Unlimited, where he bankrolled a new team of corporate superheroes.
In the live-action realm, Lord showed up as a villain in an episode of Smallville, which showed him as an agent of Checkmate. Most recently, he was a recurring antagonist in Supergirl season one, once again shown as a corrupt CEO with a distaste for super powered people. He was meant to be the main villain in the unproduced movie Justice League Mortal, where he would have been played by Jay Baruchel.
With Wonder Woman 1984, director Patty Jenkins is presumably leaning into the ’80s business tycoon version of Maxwell Lord, but it also seems that his status as a villain is secured. No doubt Pedro Pascal will play this smarmy bad guy with the appropriate gusto, but it will be interesting to see if any of the character’s early comic book influences will come to the surface.
It remains fascinating how this one character who had little to no interaction with Wonder Woman for much of his comics existence is now forever tied to the Amazing Amazon, all due to one life-changing act on her part.
Featured Image: Warner Bros