The villain pulling all the strings in DC Comics’ first Rebirth event is a guy with considerable history as both an ally and an enemy of the heroes within the universe. Maxwell Lord IV has gone from liaison for the Justice League International to the head of Checkmate and has the potential to be one of the best villains the company has.
Introduced 30 years ago by Keith Giffen, JM DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire in the pages of the post-Legends reboot of the Justice League, Lord was a conniving businessman who found his way to take control of the Justice League International. While never actually portrayed as a good person, with the influence of the heroes who were part of the JLI, Lord’s better angels began to take over, though he was always willing to do what was best for himself.
Much like the way Lex Luthor has been portrayed over the years, Lord had an increasing bias against metahumans, ironic because he had his own telepathic metahuman abilities thanks to the Invasion! in 1989, where the Dominators set off a gene bomb on Earth and gave some humans superpowers. Now being able to manipulate people with his mind rather than just through his actions, Lord’s thirst for his own power began to take over.
A lot happened to Lord over the years. He died, he became a cyborg, he lost his mother and eventually becomes a relic of the 1980s when DC Comics moved forward with new Justice Leagues and more of a focus on the company’s biggest stars. But he would eventually become the catalyst for Infinite Crisis, the 2005 crossover that I’ve always considered to be one of the better line-wide stories DC Comics put out.
In a special Countdown issue that led into four miniseries that led into Infinite Crisis, Blue Beetle Ted Kord discovered that Lord has become a criminal mastermind and the Black King in Checkmate. Lord gained control of a satellite monitor created by Batman – Brother Eye – and sought to use Brother Eye and his OMACs to destroy the world’s superheroes. In order to keep the discovery a secret, Lord shockingly put a bullet in Kord’s head, cementing him as one of DC Comics’ worst villains.
The image of Lord blowing Blue Beetle’s brains out wasn’t going to be forgotten quickly, and DC tried to capitalize on it, as Checkmate’s Black King managed to take control of Superman’s mind, forcing the Man of Steel to believe that he was under attack by Brainiac and Doomsday, when he was really fighting Batman and Wonder Woman. After Superman laid a beating on the Bat, Wonder Woman managed to secure Lord with her lasso and commanded him to let Superman free. Lord countered, saying he would always be able to control Superman now, and the only way to stop it would be to kill him.
So she did.
While Lord met an untimely demise, his recording of Wonder Woman snapping his neck went viral (even though we were still a couple years away from things going viral in 2005) and planted seeds of doubt about the heroes in the minds of the people of the world. Lord was dead, but he managed to take the superhero ideal with him, and the heroes needed to work overtime to gain that trust back.
Lord was brought back to life in the 2010 weekly series Brightest Day, as one of the characters resurrected by the White Lantern ring, but DC Comics never really did much with him, as Flashpoint and the New 52 was just around the corner, completely rebooting the universe.
Lord’s most high-profile appearance since the DC Universe was rebooted in 2011 was in the first season of Supergirl, which aired on CBS. Peter Facinelli portrayed Lord, who was Supergirl’s stand-in for Lex Luthor, concocting schemes to defeat the Girl of Steel because he was opposed to government agencies and the Dept. of Extranormal Operations’ reliance on Supergirl to get things done. A genius and the head of Lord Technologies, the villain eventually teamed with Supergirl and the DEO to help defeat the attacking Kryptonians, but he was gone at the beginning of the show’s second season.
Now, Lord is once again a featured player with DC Comics’ Rebirth, getting a new origin in last week’s Justice League issue and leading a fearsome team of villains on a quest to kill Suicide Squad leader Amanda Waller.
While I was hoping he would be revealed as the person pulling the strings and causing problems for Wonder Woman in her book, he’s been used well so far in the Justice League vs. Suicide Squad miniseries. Lord has a lot of potential as a company-wide antagonist, especially now that Lex Luthor is playing hero in the Superman books. Hopefully, DC Comics works to reach that potential this time around.