How 'Wonder Woman 1984' Villain Maxwell Lord Stays True to the Comics

Wonder Woman 1984 Pedro Pascal
Audiences wondering where to find the inspiration behind the latest DC movie need look no further than the 1980s era of DC's comic book output.

[This story contains spoilers for Wonder Woman 1984]

One of the more surprising aspects of Wonder Woman 1984 is where DC bad guy Maxwell Lord ends up, though perhaps it shouldn't be to those who remember the comics of the 1980s. Wonder Woman 1984 uses Lord as an avatar of 1980s greed and excess, with actor Pedro Pascal clearly enjoying the chance to chew the scenery as much as possible.

By the end of WW84, Maxwell Lord has seen the error of his ways. He’s learned that following his baser desires and need for self-gratification (and enabling the self-gratification of others, as long as he can take advantage of it) can only end in disaster, and as a result, he makes a selfless decision and gives it all up for the good of those he loves — in this case, his son, Alistair (Lucian Perez). It’s a message that speaks to the moral of the movie, and of Wonder Woman as a hero in general: that no-one is beyond redemption, if they choose to be kind and help others.

It’s also an ersatz mirror of the first year or so of Maxwell Lord’s comic book existence.

When Maxwell Lord debuted in 1987’s Justice League No. 1, he was a mysterious, and untrustworthy, figure connected in some as-yet-unrevealed manner to the latest incarnation of the super-team. Across the next few issues, it would be revealed that Lord — head of a company called “Innovative Concepts” — had significant ambitions for the new League, acting as an unofficial manager to the team and both recruiting new members and building a relationship between the League and the United Nations, to take their mission international.

He was, of course, doing this for nefarious purposes.

In a two-part story appearing in 1988’s Justice League International Nos. 11 and 12, the truth was revealed: Lord was acting on behalf of an artificial intelligence known as the Construct, which planned to use the League’s international access to infiltrate systems across the globe, furthering plans for world domination. (The Construct was, to be fair, quite old school in its ambitions.) It was an arrangement born of Lord’s greed — the two met when Lord was planning to kill his boss in a climbing “accident” — and one that, like the cinematic Lord’s mission, was rooted in a seemingly sincere belief that the greater good and Lord’s success were one and the same thing.

As in the movie, the comic book Lord rebelled against the mission after realizing the truth about the Construct’s actual intent. (“It couldn’t care less about the human race… and, as much as I’ve tried to convince myself I did… that’s a lie, too,” he explains, in narration.) It’s not his love for a son that brings him to this realization, but his love for the superheroes he’s assembled into a team… a less obvious solution, perhaps, but no less a genuine connection.

By the end of Justice League International No. 12, Lord is free of his megalomaniacal tendencies — for then, at least — and ready to work with the Justice League to make the world a better place for real. It’s a further step than Pascal’s Maxwell Lord has taken, although there’s little doubt that the latter has, at least, learned the error of his ways. The first year of Justice League International took the comic book Lord from creep to good guy, acting as a secret origin of sorts for the role he’s played for the next decade-plus of stories — and, even if Pedro Pascal is too busy in a galaxy far, far away to reprise the role in any future DC movie, Wonder Woman 1984 tells a variation on that same story, in a somewhat unexpected manner.

That said, if Maxwell Lord’s cinematic journey mirrors his comic book counterpart’s, it should probably be remembered that he was later recast as a human-supremacist who intended to wipe out all superhumans altogether via an elaborate, ridiculous plan involving brainwashing and nanotechnology, so… maybe there’s some on-screen sequel potential after all…

Wonder Woman 1984 is available to stream now via HBO Max and in theaters.