Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those insufferable business profile articles that you find in your doctor’s waiting room. Rather, we’re spotlighting a different kind of businessman—Wonder Woman 1984’s Maxwell Lord.
A new era means a new type of villain. While Diana fought German stormtroopers in 2017’s Wonder Woman, this film will pit Diana up against the quintessential 1980’s troublemaker—an unscrupulous businessman. (Oh, and a cheetah as well, but we’ll get to that in another article.) In 1984 America, there was nothing more powerful (or scarier) than a corporate shark and Maxwell Lord embodies all of that.
Some of you might be thinking, “We saw Diana fight through a warzone in the first movie, so how can a guy in a business suit be a threat to her?” That’s a fair question, but don’t underestimate Lord. He might look harmless, but in the comics, Maxwell Lord’s one of the most dangerous men in the DC Universe and has disrupted Wonder Woman’s life in ways nobody else has.
A Bold Beginning
DC fans first met Lord during the first issue of J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen’s 1987 run on Justice League International. Lord was a businessman who inserted himself as the League’s press liaison, a position that was never actually offered to him. The Justice League tolerated Lord’s presence, but they remained skeptical of him, especially as he began making roster decisions for them. In a brazen move, Lord announced that Booster Gold was joining the League without consulting any of their members.
Lord continued orchestrating events and his machinations led to the Justice League being installed as international peacekeepers sanctioned by various world leaders. Just imagine somebody powerful enough to wrap the Justice League around his finger. Remember, this was a team that had powerhouses like Martian Manhunter and Batman, and Lord was able to manipulate them. So, what the heck was he up to? The mystery was partially revealed in Justice League International #12.
Flashbacks showed that Lord had been influenced by a computer system (later revealed to be super-villain Kilg%re) that wanted to protect humanity from itself. Lord and Kilg%re decided the best way to do this would be ensuring the Justice League would be seen as an internationally recognized team of guardians. Lord achieved this by, from the very beginning, hiring villains and terrorists in order to draw the heroes together. Even if his intentions were good, this was kind of messed up. What kind of person hires terrorists to kidnap politicians?
As if Lord wasn’t sneaky enough, DC’s Invasion crossover kicked things up a notch by setting off a Gene Bomb. The alien bomb activated metahuman powers for a group of humans and gave Lord the ability to control other people’s minds. To be fair, he seemed to be doing just fine without that power, considering the way he manipulated the world’s greatest heroes. Things got a bit weird after that, with Lord getting cancer, seemingly dying, and then becoming a cyborg. Don’t worry about any of that though, since it’s a phase of his life nobody likes to acknowledge.
At this point you might be thinking, “Isn’t he supposed to be a villain?” The answer is yes, and the heroes found that out the hard way. Remember all that stuff about Lord forming the League because he wanted to protect the Earth? In 2005’s Countdown to Infinite Crisis #1, Blue Beetle discovered that Maxwell’s true intentions were a bit more nefarious. It turns out he wanted to control the metahuman community, so he could get rid of them. Lord had taken control of the shadowy government agency known as Checkmate and he shot Blue Beetle in the head before he could expose his plan. This moment was a jaw-dropper for anybody who read it. Up until this point, we knew Lord wasn’t honorable, but this was truly evil.
It’s also where Wonder Woman comes in, and it’s hard to think of a hero who Lord ultimately damaged more. His mind control power had grown to the point where he was able to control Superman, causing the Man of Steel to attack his Justice League teammates. (If you love seeing Diana kick butt, then we’d recommend checking out 2005’s Wonder Woman #219 to see her epic battle against a mind-controlled Kal-El.) However, Wonder Woman’s battle with Superman is most famous for what happened during the final pages. Realizing that the only way to free Superman was to kill Lord, Diana snapped the mogul’s neck.
Unfortunately for Wonder Woman, Lord’s murder was broadcast for the entire world to see. Like all businessmen, Maxwell Lord was all about image, and that’s just how he was able to destroy Wonder Woman. Lord’s death changed the public’s perception of Diana, who had worked hard to present herself as an ambassador of peace. Wonder Woman’s decision put her at odds with Batman and Superman, who felt that she should have found another way. A rift formed between the trio, which led to chaos and disharmony within the superhero community.
Consider this—Maxwell Lord was able to temporarily break up the Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman partnership, turn the public against Diana, and get her to question her mission. Can any other villain claim as much? Maxwell Lord may not have the ferocious speed of Cheetah or the brute strength of Giganta, but it’s hard to think of a villain who has done more to damage Diana’s life.
From Death…to Live Action
Of course, in the DC Universe, death isn’t always the end. Lord’s zombified corpse became a Black Lantern vessel in Blackest Night: Wonder Woman, which led to an eerie graveyard fight surrounded by an army of undead soldiers. A powerful force known as the White Light brought Lord back to life, where he resumed his sneaky Machiavellian plans. To this day, Lord is one of the biggest enigmas in the DC Universe, never overplaying his hand, and always working five steps ahead of everyone else.
While Wonder Woman 1984 will be Lord’s film debut, it isn’t the first time the manipulative mogul has appeared in live action. Gil Bellows portrayed Lord on Smallville and Peter Facinelli played him during the first season of Supergirl. Now, the role falls to Pedro Pascal, who gives us an ’80s-era take on the character that’s less ruthlessly brilliant, but no less dangerous. It asks a question of Lord that’s never been asked before—what would happen if he had absolutely nothing and was truly desperate? The answer, as viewers will soon find out, is frightening. But how will Diana resolve it? Can we look to Maxwell Lord’s comic book history for hints as to what might happen? Maybe…or maybe not. But one lesson we think we can safely apply to Pascal’s Lord: Don’t underestimate his ambition and never count him out.
And let’s keep him away from Superman. Just in case.
Wonder Woman 1984 opens in theaters and on HBO Max on Friday, December 25th. For all the latest news, trailers and features on Diana’s return to the screen, visit our official Wonder Woman 1984 movie page.
For more on Pascal's portrayal of Lord, check out our recent article on Wonder Woman 1984's two big bads, Maxwell Lord and the Cheetah.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.