Who is Maxwell Lord? – Part V: Checkmate

Maxwell Lord had been one of the world’s foremost power brokers. A man who had been entertained by governments, empires, and businesses. Whatever Max wanted to happen happened. His crowning achievement was the formation of the Justice League International, but that – like all Leagues – eventually fell. Max then became embroiled in the affairs of  an artificial intelligence called the Kilg%re which transformed him into a cyborg. He appeared briefly in the public eye to organise a short-lived successor organisation to the JLI. However, what most this friends were unaware of was that Max was working behind-the-scenes on a new conspiracy.

Biography (cont...)

Becoming the Black King

Checkmate was one of a several of inter-related US black-ops/intelligence agencies that were established or reactivated around the same time as Maxwell Lord was setting up his Justice League International. Checkmate’s hierarchy was based on the game of chess, the director was the “King”, the deputy-director was the “Queen”, its special agents were “Knights”, and its normal agents were “Pawns”. The fortunes of the agency waxed and waned in the competitive world of meta-human espionage (Checkmate V1). The last known  King, David Said, and his bishop, Jessica Midnight, were responsible for recruiting Bruce Wayne’s bodyguard, Sasha Bordeaux, as a Knight (“Bruce Wayne: Fugitive”).

Checkmate was reorganised sometime after Bordeaux’s recruitment into a parallel-structure: White Side and Black Side. White Side was broadly political in nature while Black Side was broadly operational. Each side had a King and a Queen and each of them had a Bishop (an advisor) and a Knight (special agent). One side was meant to balance the other. It is, perhaps, not surprising that Maxwell Lord was recruited by the Government to be the new director of operations (the “Black King”). His time with the JLI had given him unparalleled access to and knowledge of the meta-human community (ditto with his business contacts). What isn’t entirely clear is whether Max’s recruitment came before, after, or concurrently with his organisation of the Super Buddies (The OMAC Project).

Manga Khan had hinted to Max that it was possible to reverse his cybernetic condition, but that offer was never realised. From Checkmate Castle in the Swiss Alps Max had access to technology and resources from almost every other US agency including the Cadmus Project, Project “M” and Task Force X and to Federal contracts with STAR Labs, the Blackhawks, and Progene Tech. It was this technology that he would use to restore his humanity. How he did so isn’t entirely known, but the Maxwell Lord from a divergent timeline recorded that:

I have quite a history with artificial intelligence. It was a sentient computer virus called itself the Kilg%re that started me down this path. Perhaps it knew of the latent mind control powers that I would later manifest. Perhaps that’s why it considered me an important asset to its mission of world control. The Kilg%re set me up as the Justice League’s liaison. I manipulated the League as I was instructed. I collected information, but somewhere along the way I had a change of heart.

I’d trade my mother for a subway ticket, but my soul… that was something else entirely. I fought back. The Kilg%re eventually did too. It took control of my body. It transformed me into a cyborg. It tried to take away my humanity. It took dozens of operations through the various organisations controlled by Checkmate — Cadmus Labs, Project “M”, and Progene Tech — to regain my flesh and blood. But although I was free from the metal and oil membranes running through by veins, I understood the value of artificial intelligence. And of keeping power over the world in the hands of men and women. Not androids. Not aliens. Not the Justice League.

Maxwell Lord of a timeline where the OMAC Project was successful (Booster Gold V2 #9)

Time out: Lets be honest dear readers – Max’s personality has bounced around quite a bit. The original working-with-the-Kilg%re Max let a man kill himself, but he was shocked by what the Kilg%re did to his secretary. He had enough of a conversion when he broke with the Kilg%re  that the Martian Manhunter didn’t read him as evil. Nevertheless, the JLI Max was still willing to use mind control to convince the Huntress to join his team. The breakup of the JLI and the resurgence of the Kilg%re robbed Max of the team he’d built and ultimately his humanity. The fight to free himself from the Kilg%re, the failure to rebuild his team (the Super Buddies experiment), and the operations to restore his human body must have taken a toll on his mind. Somewhere in that entire sequence Max fell off the white-hat wagon.

The O.M.A.C. Project

The Maxwell Lord who thought he could bring about a better, more stable, more secure world by creating a well run international superhuman task force had lost faith with that optimistic ideal. The flesh-and-blood Max who emerged from Checkmate’s labs was a pessimist who now saw the superhumans as an inherently chaotic factor that could not be adequately controlled. It cannot be coincidence that Max came to his conversion during the time that the pro-human scientist Lex Luthor was US President. Max’s agenda at Checkmate would have dovetailed nicely with Luthor’s private anti-alien, human-first beliefs.

Max knew that he would need a new type of soldier to police the superhumans and began a research campaign called the OMAC Project. Early prototypes were produced in collaboration with the freelance intelligence operative Mister Orr. Orr’s Mark III OMAC, codenamed “Equus” was nearly feral and the Mark IV OMAC, codenamed “Pilate” (alias Father Daniel Leone) overcame its conditioning. Orr’s OMACs had used a synthetic cancer-line to rewrite the human body, but the results proved unacceptable to Checkmate and they withdrew their funding in favour of a different approach (Superman #204-215). The final design of the OMACs – Omni-Mind And Community – used a synthetic nano-machine virus to infect unsuspecting sleeper agents. The OMAC virus was developed in a collaboration between Lex Luthor’s Lexcorp and Maxwell Lord’s Checkmate. The virus was introduced into 1.3 million “hosts” via a dummy public health campaign.

The invisible machines would remain dormant inside of the sleeper host until activated. They would then take control of the host’s body turning them into a drone with basic fight/flight responses, but keyed to an outside control for strategic and tactical control. The nano-machines protected the host with a super hard exo-shell that had a distinctive head fin and a single eye. These supertough shells gave the OMACs superstrength, flight, and energy projecting attacks and other highly-extensible offensive capabilities. They also concealed the OMACs true identity from their target.

The last part of the OMAC army was a command-and-control computer system. Max had been the pawn of the Kilg%re so he knew the potential of artificial intelligence, but he now needed an AI that he could control. Max discovered that the Batman had built the perfect system, a semi-intelligent satellite called the Brother Mark One, that he had specifically designed to track and monitor superhumans. Max’s silent partner in the seizure of Brother Mark One and the creation of the OMACs was Alexander Luthor, a refugee from a defunct parallel universe. Max, with an unknown amount of help from Luthor, liberated the Brother Mark One from the Batman. Alexander Luthor added a child-like intelligence to it for his own purposes. The Brother Mark One, or “Brother Eye” as it called itself, knew the Batman as “creator”, but it was loyal to Max whom it called “teacher.”

The OMAC technology was not cheap to develop even with Checkmate’s Black Ops budget. Max began laundering the funds and procurement for the OMACs through a series of dummy corporations and the offices of companies like Waynetech and Kord Omniversal which were owned by his former associates. Most of this went unnoticed until Oracle discovered the word OMAC left on an account connected to Kord. She alerted the Blue Beetle (Ted Kord, the owner of Kord Omniversal) and he began his own investigation. Brother Eye and Lord sought to confuse Kord’s investigation and Max even met Ted socially to try and dissuade him of his attempt. Nevertheless, Ted eventually traced the OMAC trail to Checkmate’s castle in the Swiss Alps.

Max had assembled covert intelligence on most heroes and villains identities from his time on the JLI, working for the Kilg%re, and through Brother Eye’s surveillance. Beetle discovered those files in the Checkmate database and erased them before he was discovered. Max was impressed that his friend had got this far and offered him the chance to join Checkmate. Ted refused and was shot dead by Max (Countdown to Infinite Crisis).

Max ordered Sasha Bordeaux to incinerate Kord’s body and to dispose of the evidence. She hated what he had turned Checkmate into and secretly sent evidence of Kord’s murder to Bruce Wayne (whom she knew was the Batman). She implicated Checkmate and Wayne’s stolen satellite. Lord discovered the loss of evidence and used it as an excuse to unveil a fabricated “plot” by the White Queen and King to remove him. He telepathically forced White Queen’s Knight Jessica Midnight to kill the White King and Queen and then made her a scapegoat.  Max had now eliminated the last remaining check on his control of Checkmate. However, the Batman now knew the truth behind the OMACs (OMAC Project #1-3).

Batman’s involvement forced Lord to move up his schedule for the OMAC Project and he activated a previously established hypnotic suggestion in Superman’s mind. Superman began hallucinating that Brainiac was attacking his friends whilst he was actually attacking the Batman. He almost killed Batman before the rest of the Justice League managed to stop him. The Martian Manhunter discovered the “fingerprints” of Max’s mind control in Superman’s mind and revealed his connection Checkmate and the OMACs. Wonder Woman went to face Lord in Checkmate Castle. Wonder Woman’s divine blood prevent Lord from controlling her, but it didn’t stop the controlled Superman from fighting her.

After fighting the controlled Superman across the world Wonder Woman managed to bring him back to Checkmate. While her friend was momentary floored Wonder Woman bound Max in the lasso of truth and order him to release Superman. He told her that she “can’t keep this lasso on me forever. And the next time he’ll [Superman] kill Batman… or Lois… or you. You think I’ve lied to you,  but I haven’t. I can’t. He’s mine. I’ll never let him go.” Wonder Woman then twisted Max’s neck, killing him instantly and permanently removing his control of Superman (“Sacrifice” – Superman V2 #219, Action Comics #829, Adventures of Superman #642, Wonder Woman V2 #219).

The King Is Dead

Maxwell Lord’s death triggered a protocol called “The King Is Dead”, putting Brother Eye into a fully autonomous survival mode designed to eradicate all superhumans. The surviving Checkmate Knights managed to savage something of the organisations knowledge of the OMACs and provided Batman’s forces with the information they needed to halt the OMAC holocaust. However, in one last vindictive act Brother Eye transmitted video of Wonder Woman killing Maxwell Lord to every communications screen on Earth. Her public reputation was shattered as few people knew the full circumstances. It was Booster Gold who realised that the alien armour worn by Jamie Reyes (Ted Kord’s successor as the Blue Beetle) was the key to breaking Brother Eye’s stealth technology so that Batman’s team could finally bored it and disable it from within (OMAC Project #4-6, Infinite Crisis #1-7).

Lord’s activities had turned Checkmate into a powerful and effective, if misguided, organisation. There was a Federal investigation and the organisation was on the brink of being wound up when it was re-purposed by the United Nations. The US signed Checkmate over to the United Nations Security Council and it became their meta-human monitoring and security watchdog. Its new purpose was to fight international superhuman terrorists and to police the increasing number of State aligned superhuman teams. The new Black King, Taleb Beni Khalid of Israel, recruited Beatriz DaCosta (Fire) as his new Knight and Bordeaux was promoted to become the Black Queen (Checkmate v2).

Brother Eye’s broadcast of Wonder Woman murder of Max turned her into an international fugitive. She had killed monsters like the Medusa before and morally considered Max to be no different. Nevertheless, the pressure from the authorities forced her to adopting a new secret identity as Special Agent Diana Prince. She eventually handed herself into the authorities and stood trial for Max’s murder. Her lawyer, Kate Spencer (alias Manhunter), had help from Bordeaux in getting her acquitted (Manhunter #27).  The Government’s arrest of Wonder Woman – the daughter of a Queen Hippolyta, a foreign head of state – triggered an invasion of Washington DC by the Amazons (Amazon’s Attack).

Most people assumed that Booster Gold, never the most highly regarded hero, went off the rails after Max killed his best friend (Ted Kord, the Blue Beetle). What they didn’t realise was that he had become a roving time agent for the Time Master Rip Hunter. Against Rip’s advice, Booster volunteered to help another time traveller called the Black Beetle alter history to save Ted. With Dan Garrett and Jamie Reyes (Ted’s predecessor and successor as the Blue Beetle). However, what they actually created was a divergent timeline where Batman never learnt about the OMACs until it was too late.

Ted’s death should have been the trigger that unravelled Max’s conspiracy. Without that Max’s OMAC were successful in killing hundreds of superhumans and driving the survivors underground. Beetle and Booster reassembled their JLI team-mates and used a Boom Tube to storm Checkmate Castle. In that timeline it was Doctor Light who managed to kill Max. However, it turned out that the Black Beetle was actually Reyes’s future arch-enemy. He had helped Booster save Ted so that there would be no need for Jamie to ever become a Blue Beetle and thus never rise to oppose him. The changes to history were causing Booster to fade from reality and Ted realised that he had to die to save Booster and restore the correct timeline. He then stepped back into the place in time he had come from – thus  restoring reality, but presumably ending his life again (Booster Gold V2 #6-10)

Becoming the Black Lantern

Maxwell Lord was given a second funeral at a cemetery in Washington DC. However, his murder by Wonder Woman had given his remains mystical significance. A trio of villains – Despero, Enigma (the Riddler from the Anti-Matter Universe), and Morgaine Le Fay – sought to usurp Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman’s totemic positions within the Universe’s make-up and needed a spell component linked to Wonder Woman. They chose Lord’s skull and sent a team of agents to retrieve it. Gangbuster, Hawkman and a large group of allies fought Le Fay’s agents, but one of them escaped with the skull. The narrative of the Universe was fundamentally rewritten, but the spell was not perfect and the original reality was eventually restored (Trinity).

Other raids on deceased superhuman graves caused the Justice League to create a special secure morgue that was buried three stories beneath their Washington DC headquarters. Maxwell Lord’s remains were reinterred there, but they did not remain undisturbed for long. An aspect of Death called Nekron attempted to enter the living universe by creating a perverse duplicate of the Green Lantern Corps. His Black Lanterns were corpses animated by a black power ring that read the corpses memories and recreated it as a hateful zombie-like creature. Each Black Lantern was created to elicit the strongest emotional response from a specific target. Black Lantern Maxwell Lord was created to torment Wonder Woman and he fought her in Arlington Cemetery before the last pitched battle in Coast City (Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #1).

Nekron was defeated when the White Entity – the living embodiment of life – was discovered. The legion of Black Lanterns were destroyed, returned to inanimate corpses, but for some as yet unknown reason the White Entity’s White Lantern saved twelve of the deceased and returned them to life. Maxwell Lord was one of those twelve. He acted quickly a cloud Guy Gardner’s mind and escaped before anybody realised he was one of the twelve (Blackest Night #1-8).

Maxwell Lord’s activities now unfold in Justice League: Generation Lost.