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Booster Gold (screaming at Max): By filling graveyards?! This is how you “save the world”?!
Synopsis "The Man Behind The Curtain"
Previously: Maxwell Lord (the disgraced former director of the JLI and Checkmake) had used his former JLI allies to frame and discredit Checkmate. He then seized control of whatever remained of it and then founded a new incarnation from a base/craft submerged in the seas off Japan. Booster Gold, Captain Atom, and the rest of JLI pursued Max for the kidnap of their comrade Jaime Reyes (the Blue Beetle), but they could not reach Max before he shot Reyes for attempting to escape.
The secret origin of Maxwell Lord is related to us: Arthur Lord, Maxwell Lord’s father, was an executive in business affairs at a chemical corporation called Chemtech who had stumbled upon a secret report which showed that one of their products caused cancer. Arthur wanted to do the right things so had arranged to hand the report to the attorney general. However, the Chemtech’s hired killers go to him first and staged his murder to look like a suicide. At Arthur’s funeral Max’s tearful mother, Rebecca, told him the truth and warned him “Powerful people are not to be underestimated. If you are going to after people like that — plan every step. Every step.”
Max become a corporate raider himself, but his hostile take over of Chemtech was thwarted when it was bought by Lex Luthor’s Lexcorp. He was disappointed, but Rebecca pointed out that he now had to the power to make a very real change to the world. He was already the worlds biggest philanthropist, but his mother’s words spurred him to do more – to organise the Justice League International. Even when he gained his own superpower (mind control) Rebecca told him that he was still one of the normal people, not one of the costumed demi-gods. Her counsel shaped Max’s world until she was killed in the destruction of Coast City.
A melancholy Max began to question whether the superheroes he had once associated with were, by simply by existing, doing more harm that good. His answer to that question was to plan for the utter domination of the superhumans. He subverted Checkmate and founded the OMAC Project, but his plans were cut short by his murder at Wonder Woman’s hands. Max was eventually brought back to life by the White Lantern, but his mind control powers were elevated to an almost unbearable level. He was able to burn off most of that power by convincing the world that he never existed.
Back in the present day: the JLI have just watched Max shoot their friend the Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes). Captain Atom blasts through the barrier separating them from Max, but Max escapes and jettisons the room contain the JLI. The rest of the Checkmate craft them continues upwards before vanishing. Booster’s team quickly get Beetle to the ground. Skeets and Rocket Red jack into Jaime’s armour, but they report that it’s too late and that Jaime is already dead.
Sometimes I think DC are deliberately trying to invalidated any character profiles I attempt to write for this site. I wrote the Prometheus profile going into Cry For Justice and then they killed him off. I wrote a Maxwell Lord profile going into Generation Lost and now they’ve retconned his background again. Admittedly – and rather unlike the retcon of Ice’s origin – it doesn’t make a huge change to Max. Old Max had the type of a background that gets thrown into a story because it feels something has to be included when the character is discussed. No stories have every spun out of it and there isn’t much lost by changing it. Ice on the other hand had entire story arcs dedicated to her divinity and the Ice People. She had story baggage that Max doesn’t.
So what does this new origin tell us about Max that we didn’t already know? The hook that Judd Winick adds is Max’s mother and her ties to the “Death of Superman”. Sometimes the question gets asked of how these comic book superheroes would respond to 9/11, well DC has its own event like that — the destruction of Coast City and the loss of 7 million lives. In their world that disaster must have all the same resonances that 9/11 has in ours – it is the day the game changed. At that point in his life Max’s experiment of controlling the powerful (the JLI) through leadership has failed and Coast City shows him their control can only come about through total domination. It’s the missing link which we never got to see in Countdown to Infinite Crisis.
However, there are still some things that are missing from the origin. There is no mention of Metron’s computer / the Kil%gre and of Max’s time as a cyborg. Unnecessary details perhaps, but it does leave out Max’s first moral swing. He’s swung from chaotic neutral to chaotic good, or something like that (I wouldn’t be surprised if he could be nailed to every single D&D alignment).
There is a very telling scene towards the end of the issue where, just after Coast City has been destroyed, Max finally opens up to Booster Gold. Inside Pulse’s Grey describes it as:
Max lost his mother that day, and despite unloading the entire story onto Booster, it’s not one that leaves the room. Max cared, he wanted a friend, he wanted someone to talk to, but he couldn’t cede that control even for a sympathetic pair of ears.
It plays back into several scenes we’ve seen in this series where Max genuinely talks to Booster as if he was his friend. It’s something that makes Max look almost lonely, but it never makes him appear weak. Max has crossed the lines he needs to and appears to regret nothing. CBR’s Greg sums up Max’s position:
The important thing here, though, is that Winick makes it clear that Maxwell Lord genuinely feels like he’s doing the right thing for the world. He’s not trying to take over for the sake of power, but rather to make things better. And to do that, he needs to be in control of the situation.
In a sense his origin isn’t too different from that of Bruce Wayne, Frank Castle, or any of a dozen movie or comicbook characters who is motivated by the loss of a loved one. What separates these characters is what they do with that motivation. Batman believes is eliminating crime by stopping individual crimes as a vigilante and by changing society as a philanthropist. Frank Castle went for pure punishment. Max wants to protect people by policing and controlling the superheroes – in effect making himself the answer to “Who Watches the Watchmen?”.
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Page 1-2 - Max’s father’s background has been described before, but not in any great details. Max’s full name is given in an early JLI issue as Maxwell Lord IV implying that he is from a dynasty of Maxwell Lords. In Justice League America #53 we are told that Lord’s father was a English professor from Yale and that Max almost followed him into journalism. And then in this issue (JL:GL #20) we are told that Max’s father was a mid-level executive called Arthur Lord.
Page 3, 7 – This is the secret origin of Maxwell Lord and reveals the presence of a loving mother that we’ve only really seen hinted at before. Recently Max’s paternal WWI-era ancestor Cyril Lord in Booster Gold #16 by Dan Jurgens and then his mother Naomi Lord as a WWII-era nurse in Booster Gold #38 by Keith Giffen and JM DeMatteis.
In the second Booster Gold appearance Rani – Booster’s foster ward/daughter/charge from the 30th century – went to find Max’s mother (given the name Naomi there) to tell her how bad her son was, but she knew nothing about a son at that time. DeMatteis commented to The Gold Report that:
GX: Apparently strange and possibly magical people appearing from nowhere to tell her that her son, Max, is a horrible bastard doesn’t stop Naomi from naming her kid Max?
JMD: I don’t think Naomi saw Rani as “strange and magical”: just a little girl who’d been traumatized by war. And if her gazillionaire husband wanted his son to take his name, there was no reason for Naomi to object.
I suspect that this is one of those things that would have tied in more heavily if Keith Giffen hadn’t left the book.
Max’s mother is shown about the same age in the Booster Gold and Generation Lost flashbacks despite one being set 60 years before the other. The WWII for Naomi and Maxwell Lord III and the c1980s/90s setting for Rebecca and Arthur Lord could work if Naomi and Max III are actually Max IV’s grandparents (the parents of Arthur).
Page 7 - The chemical company is identified in Chemtech. A suitable generic name, but there is at least one real company with that name (Chemtech Waste who specialise in recycling).
Page 9 – The rankings of who is richer than who gets a bit murky in the upper reaches of the DC rich list. Bruce Wayne and Oliver Queen (alias Batman and Green Arrow respectively) get name checked. Queen lost his fortune about the time he was reinvented by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams as a bleeding heart liberal.
Bruce Wayne wealth is nebulous, but Lord’s claim to be the bigger philanthropist may only be technically correct. Now this is just my own opinion, but I always imagined Wayne’s entire portfolio would be managed with a very strong ethical line. I also imagined that there would be an overarching strategy to his investments. This means a lot of his philanthropy doesn’t appear as standard charity donations. His investments are about creating jobs and triggering growth in deprived areas. Corporate raiders like Max or Lex are doing to be more worried about the short term PR gains and obvious projects, but Wayne is investing so that 20 to 100 years down the line there will be entire communities who are have been lifted out of poverty.
Thaddeus Sivana is Captain Marvel’s arch-enemy. He appeared in Power Girl #18 and was responsible for giving Max the technology to clone a kryptonian and to create Divine (the dark-haired clone of Power Girl).
Page 10 - The group that would become the JLI had reformed prior to Max’s involvement, but his manipulations did guarrentee their survivial and international status. He paid off terrorists in Justice League #1 and the Royal Flush Gang in Justice League #4. It was the battle with the Royal Flush Gang that proved Booster Gold’s worth to the League.
Shown here is the JLI roster circa the time they gained their UN status. From top-to-bottom they are Batman (Bruce Wayne), Captain Atom, Booster Gold, Black Canary, Blue Beetle (Ted Kord), Mister Miracle (Scott Free), Guy Gardner, and the Martian Manhunter. Although, Batman is shown with a later costume (he had the yellow shield around the bat symbol in those days).
Page 11 – Invasion was the big crossover of 1988-89. It featured an entire raft of alien species including the Thanagarians, Daxamites, and Dominators who banded together to once and for all invade the Earth. The invasion was shown like a proper military fight back with Captain Atom serving as the commander of the defending forces. During the course of the Invasion the Dominators first identified the meta-gene – the genetic factor that allows some people in the DC Universe to gain superpowers.
Once they’d lost the war the Dominators detonated a “gene-bomb” as a parting shot. It left anybody with the meta-gene comatose – this revealed many people who had the gene, had the ability to gain superpowers, but had not yet done so. Max was one of those that got sick although it wasn’t until later, until Max was trapped in a cave in that he became aware of what he power was. As originally presented Max had the ability to telepathically nudge people’s minds – super persusasion – with the side effects that he always gave him a nose bleed.
Page 12 - The destruction of Coast City occurred in Superman (vol. 2) #80 (1993). Superman had been killed by the monster Doomsday and four heroes – Superboy, Steel, the Eradicator, and the Cyborg Superman – had appeared to replace him. Unknown to anybody else the Cyborg Superman was an old enemy, Hank Henshaw, masqurading as Superman’s corpse returned to life as a Kryptonian cyborg. He allied himself with Mongul with the intention of transforming Earth into a new War World. The first part of that transformation was the demolition of Coast City to make way for a massive engine.
Superman, the real Superman, returned to life and stopped Mongul and the Cyborg, but the fall out was long lasting. Coast City had been Green Lantern Hal Jordan’s home town – it was to him as Gotham is to Batman or Metropolis is to Superman. His grief at its loss was the principal event that allowed the Parallax entity to possess him and turn him into a super villain. We now learn that it wasn’t only Hal who crossed the line because of Coast City’s destruction.
Booster Gold appears in his normal armour here. However, it had been trashed by Doomsday sometime shortly after Justice League America #69 and Blue Beetle wasn’t able to repair it properly until Justice League America #80. Even then he was only able to create a bulking, Iron Man, like replacement.
Page 14 – In the first panel Barbara Gordon, the original Batgirl, is shown getting shot in Alan Moore’s Killing Joke graphic novel. DC Women Kick Ass questions its inclusion as “an image that has NOTHING to do with the story in the [Generation Lost] comic book. And it’s an image that was NEVER IN the original [Killing Joke].” The point being that it’s a “searing moment of a woman being violently attacked” and its continued repetition does seems to underline the argument the position of women in comic books as victims.
The second panel shows a scene from the Cosmic Odyssey mini-series. Green Lantern John Stewart and the Martian Manhunter had gone to prevent the destruction of the planet Xanshi. Stewart arrogantly believed that his ring would be able to stop the planet bomb without the Manhunter’s help. Unfortunately the mastermind behind it had forseen the intervention of a Green Lantern and had painted the doomsday device yellow rendering John’s ring completely ineffective. His failure to prevent Xanshi still haunts John.
There was a throwaway line in an issue of JLA that Max’s mother lived in LA, but that was not followed-up until recently. The set-up, as we’ll see here of her living in Coast City, jibes with the position of Coast City as an LA analogue.
Page 15 - Max’s plan to attack the world with the OMACs and his murder by Wonder Woman happened in The OMAC Project and the “Sacrifice” crossover between Superman, Adventures of Superman, Action Comics, and Wonder Woman. It was one of the four plotlines that fed into Infinite Crisis. Black Lantern Max returned in Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #1. He was resurrected in Blackest Night #8 although the explanation of his boosted power is new here.
Page 17 - Max wiped everybodies minds in Brightest Day #1 and Generation Lost #1.