International Incidents

June 30th, 2010 by | Tags: , , , , , ,

These days I don’t read too much from DC. I check out things from the Green Lantern neighborhood, the Batman neighborhood, Secret Six and I’m probably the only one mourning the loss of Magog’s solo series. What’s really keeping my attention these days is the Booster Gold section of the DC Universe in Booster Gold and Justice League: Generation Lost.

Let’s go back a second to the days of Countdown to Infinite Crisis. So much has happened since this story that I’ve almost forgotten about how I and many other DC readers had felt when it happened. The big reveal of the comic is that Maxwell Lord, former liaison of Justice League International, is not only evil, but has always been evil and the Booster/Beetle/Fire/Ice version of the Justice League was created to keep the brand from being competent. To prove he’s a jerk, he shoots and kills Ted Kord.

One of the big responses from the fans was how this idea that Max was always evil went against his behavior in Justice League International. One instance brought up is the twelfth issue where it’s revealed that Max has been blackmailed by a super computer called the Construct to betray the team, as the Construct has kept Max from succumbing to several bullet wounds. Max turns against the Construct and destroys it, allowing himself to die in the process. His body is recovered by the League in time and he’s brought to the hospital. There’s a scene between Scott Free and Oberon where they discuss what a great guy Max really is and how Martian Manhunter himself has been doing a full scan of Max’s mind to search for any sort of corruption. The last panel of the issue shows that J’onn had walked into the comatose Max’s hospital room and placed a JLI membership badge in his hands. According to one of the greatest psychics, Max is completely clean.

It’s all a moot point because that’s how comics are when they push shock value over continuity.

Readers: Wait, that Max Lord reveal doesn’t make sense! What about that character-defining story in Justice League International?

DC Comics: That was then. We’re going to ignore that for the sake of telling the stories we want to tell. Or you can just blame whatever the last continuity reboot we had.

Which is right no matter how you slice it. Especially since Max Lord did in fact turn evil in the mid-90’s by turning into Lord Havok (no relation). Nothing ever came out of that story and the character was ignored up until showing up in the Giffen/DeMatteis “Superbuddies” stories, Formerly Known as the Justice League and I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League. From there, the two writers took the character they created and completely handwaved away all that Lord Havok crap.

Later this was all explained by the infamous Superboy Prime continuity punches.

Coincidentally, I was in the process of reading through Justice League International around the time of Countdown to Infinite Crisis, so the contrast was more vivid to me. Still, I accepted Max’s villain status for a while. He makes for a good bastard and works as the guy to use when Lex Luthor is busy. Not that he got much use, though. He was killed in his very next story by Wonder Woman and then reappeared in Booster Gold as part of an alternate present thanks to time-fuckery.

Now he’s back thanks to the end of Blackest Night and I don’t mind. Like I said, he’s a good enough villain. Then I start reading Justice League: Generation Lost and I feel vindicated. Max’s actions where he erases everyone’s knowledge of his existence are evil as hell and they get more devious as the story continues. Ice is cast out by the superhero community for supposedly attacking Guy Gardner on a date. Fire is let go of her duties at Checkmate due to her increasing insanity. Captain Atom is dismissed from the army and things get worse when he’s tricked into fighting Magog.

It took me a long time to realize how brilliant a callback this scene is. Magog and Captain Atom are involved in a fight. The guy Magog is fighting vehemently surrenders and Magog keeps pouring it on anyway until Captain Atom explodes. Does this sound familiar to you?

The real sinister thing about it all is Booster Gold’s side of the story. Booster is considered a little crazy for his insistence that Max Lord existed, but that alone isn’t a bad thing. After all, Booster’s time cop profession works better if he’s working solo and everyone thinks less of him. But then it goes too far when Batman informs him that in Max Lord’s mental retcon of Countdown to Infinite Crisis’s events, Ted Kord didn’t die heroically, but took the coward’s way out and killed himself. That’s just taking it too far.

Suddenly, as of the 4th issue of the story, things have taken a different turn. Max Lord isn’t trying to fend off the four former League members. He’s actually using them for something. He’s having some kind of major problem that ties into his experience as a Black Lantern and he needs to get the band back together, as well as bringing in the latest incarnations of Blue Beetle and Rocket Red.

Then you look back at the last couple months and wonder if they’re trying to redeem Max Lord and push him back to a good guy. Slimy, yes, but still a good guy. For instance, look at the latest issue of Booster Gold. After fighting off a supervillain because the current Justice League weren’t getting there fast enough, Booster is confronted by a smarmy Cyborg, who makes sure to dress down Booster and his era of the Justice League.

Now, Justice League International, Booster Gold and Generation Lost are all co-written by Keith Giffen and I’d like to think that he somewhat resents how the Justice League team he wrote for years is looked down on by history as a bunch of jokes. That reveal of Max Lord in Countdown to Infinite Crisis was a double slap in the face, taking apart the character he created and the team he invested so much time in. When Booster Gold absolutely tears into Cyborg, it’s not only therapeutic, but it’s more than likely Giffen speaking from the heart. I’ll get to more of it later, but here’s what he has to say about Max Lord.

Love that he makes sure to bring up that story with the Construct, even if Cyborg (and much of the reading audience) doesn’t have a clue as to what he’s talking about.

The Max rant is such a weird thing for Booster to go off on, all things considered, unless they’re going somewhere with it. The rest of the issue involves Booster going back in time to that era of the League and briefly meeting up with Max. Going with his suspicions, Max is shown to be a pretty all right guy around this time.

Now look at the dialogue from the first issue of Generation Lost after Max takes down Booster from behind.

“I’m glad it was you. I really am.”

“Go to Hell.”

“Right. But I think we know that at this point… that’d be redundant. Don’t get up, stay down. I don’t want to hurt you. Not any one of you. You don’t get it. None of you get it. We were friends, Michael… This all started with you and me. You and me. I still think of you as a friend, Michael. I miss you. But you and the rest of them, the whole idiotic spandexed costume party – you’re all-so busy looking at the brushstrokes… that you’ve never seen the painting.”

“Killing Ted? That was a ‘brushstroke’?”

“You think I wanted to kill Ted? You think I liked that? I didn’t have any choice. It haunts me. I am doing what I have always done – right from the beginning. Right from when I found you and marched you – right there – through the door to the Justice League of America! I’m trying to save the damn world. And you’ve gotta ask yourself, ‘Booster’, when one of the most powerful beings on the planet murdered me… and the universe sought fit to send me back… who’s right?”

At first glance, it appears to be Max being his evil Checkmate self, but is it really? Look closely at what he says. Could it be that he’s been controlled into this by some outside force? Is he trying to “save the world” from the superheroes or from something more sinister that he can’t do with every hero on the planet looking for him?

That’s what it seems like to me. Something is behind Max Lord’s turn to evil. But who could it be? Before I get to that answer, I want to talk about The Authority: The Lost Year.

For those who aren’t in the loop, Lost Year is what became of Grant Morrison’s attempt at writing The Authority. He only lasted two issues before completely forgetting about it and letting it drift into the abyss. Keith Giffen was entrusted with his notes and has been doing a pretty good job writing the rest of the series. The story has had to do with the team being stuck flying through the multiverse, trying to find their way home. In the first story, they’re stuck on a world like ours, which doesn’t have any superheroes or magic because some sleeping Lovecraftian creature has been eating all of Earth’s energy. The second story has them go to a world where the other heroes didn’t exist, leading to a science vs. magic civil war between members of the Authority. The third story, which just wrapped up?

The world where Keith Giffen and JM DeMatteis write the team. Yes, they even get DeMatteis to join in for a couple issues. Midnighter and Apollo are less competent and haven’t come to terms with their homosexuality, while the others are less than trusting to this visiting Authority team because they fight evil clones and shapeshifters every other week. Things start to calm down until the Nasty Bastards, the Authority’s set of villains, pop in for a fight… only to piss themselves because there are now two sets of the Authority.

It doesn’t hit me until the second issue that the team is made up of loosely-veiled Justice League International knockoffs. You have the leader Emperor Maximus along with the Narcissist, Dung Beetle, Hot Chick, Frost Fairy and Rad-Man. Fights happen, quips commence and the main Authority team leaves.

Towards the end of the issue, Emperor Maximus returns with a new ally.

It isn’t hard to identify that Obsesso the Terrible is supposed to be Despero. Despero did in fact fight the International era Justice League, but only twice. It wasn’t like he was their Lex Luthor or anything, so the reference is a bit suspect.

But wait! References to Despero? Let’s go back to Booster bitching out Cyborg.

Yeah, there’s another mention of Despero. So could Despero be involved with Max Lord’s behavior? It would certainly make sense. Despero has crazy mind powers and, now that I think about it, it would be the ultimate revenge. The two times Despero’s tangled with Booster and the rest (not counting that recent Blue and Gold arc in Booster’s solo series), he’s been defeated mentally. First time, Martian Manhunter used a once-in-a-lifetime mind attack that made Despero believe that he’s killed the Justice League before falling into a comatose state. I think he turned into a fetus or something. The other time had L-Ron – who is like the poor man’s Skeets – take over Despero’s mind and gaining full control over his body for a couple years. This led to L-Ron/Despero joining the Justice League Task Force for a spell.

“You mess with my mind? I’ll mess with yours!” Hm, it does kind of work out like that.

And hey, you know what else? Remember Max’s cannon fodder?

Hey now!

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32 comments to “International Incidents”

  1. Um. That’s great, and would be a great plot twist and everything… but if it is what they’re planning, they’ll probably change it now you’ve let the cat out of the bag!

  2. Well as redemptive retcons go, it’s a lot better than “the evil yellow fear bug did it”.

  3. Hm. I like it! Be interesting to see Max try to do damage control after he comes back to his senses.

  4. Wasn’t despero in some big reveal back in JLA that never went anywhere? Like, him and the time traveling nazi guy and someone else? I can’t remember.

  5. Holy shit. I hope you’re right about everything! This all sounds pretty cool and kinda makes me wish I was reading Booster Gold and Generation Lost.

  6. It would be a nice way for them to cover that little plot hole of Max making everyone on the planet just forget him, rather than be subserviant to him, too…

  7. @David Wynne: Hopefully they’ve realized by now that just because someone guesses the ending, that does not mean that the ending is both worthless and spoiled for everybody.

  8. …holy crap. Please let this be what’s actually going on.

  9. I’ve been championing this theory for years. I mean, Brother Eye?

  10. Nice article to read. Makes me actually interested in a DC comic outside of Morrison. Thanks!

  11. @MrBird: That wasn’t in JLA, but in Booster Gold. Black Beetle, Supernova (Booster’s father controlled by Mr. Mind), Per Degaton, Ultra-Humanite and pre-cosmic-steroids Despero were all working together in some capacity that I guess ended when Ted Kord sacrificed himself and fixed time.

    @David Wynne: If Blackest Night has taught me anything, they’ll reveal that the evil force behind Max Lord is Sinestro! …and then they’ll say, “Just kidding, it’s Despero like people speculated.”

  12. “DC Comics: That was then. We’re going to ignore that for the sake of telling the stories we want to tell. Or you can just blame whatever the last continuity reboot we had.

    Which is right no matter how you slice it.”

    No way. That’s just dealing with things the way they are. I stop short of calling it “right.”

  13. Further fuel for the Despero-controlling Max angle. In his first appearance, Despero appeared completely obsessed with chess. And Max took control of which international spy agency?

    Also, Max’s longtime buddy and sidekick L-Ron mysteriously disappeared following I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League. Maybe Despero still had a sore spot over the whole midget-robot-possessing-his-body thing.

  14. @West3man: I probably phrased that wrong. It’s not so much “right” as it’s “their right”.

    @Munch: Good catch. To add to that, the cover for the third issue shows Max playing chess with the heroes.

  15. Between this and Doom Patrol, I believe 2010 my just be the Year of Keith Giffen.

  16. I think Keith Giffen is seriously under-rated as a writer. I’ve recently started reading Marvel’s cosmic books in tpb form. I’m up through Annihilation Conquest. The DnA stuff is really good, but the Giffen stuff is even better. The original Annihilation itself was simply awesome, plus the Drax and Silver Surfer minis that he wrote. And the Starlord mini that he wrote for Conquest was easily the funnest, most kick-ass thing I’ve read in a while.

    Giffen’s known for JLI and Defenders in the 80s, of course, and his latest stuff for Marvel and DC, but what was he up to in the 90s? I don’t recall his name attached to anything significant that decade.

  17. I know DC has no respect for continuity, but considering Giffen’s behind this, I hope he does follow through with this Despero thread because it makes complete sense, would be a ridiculous reveal, and would repair a lot of obvious shitty storytelling. Anxiously awaiting next move.

  18. In terms of Giffen recent writing, I really do suggest his run on Magog. I haven’t read any JSA, so I don’t have that negative stigma that comes from the character. I just know him as that rad Cable knockoff from Kingdom Come who fucked up, had a major nervous breakdown instead of fighting Superman and then had a subtle redemption arc for the rest of the book. Giffen’s take on him is great.

    The basic gist is that Magog just wants to use his newfound powers to take out bad guys, especially terrorists. The problem is, his powers come with a shitload of backstory that HE DOES NOT GIVE A SHIT ABOUT and every time he crosses path with anyone remotely evil, they always end up being tied into his secret origin. He tries to stop a purse-snatcher? Turns out it’s the queen of the race of gods that ties into his powers and she doesn’t understand why he doesn’t recognize her, but JESUS CHRIST MAGOG DOES NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS SHIT SO GIVE IT A REST! GOD!

  19. Giffen is easily in my top three DCU writers along with Morrison. (And I guess a rotating slot for whoever else I feel like lately …)

    The Despero/OMAC lookalike thing is crazy. And a few months back, Despero was “taken off the board” from something. Robinson used him for about five seconds in JLA (The substitute team) then he left, quickly becoming embroiled in R.E.B.E.L.S. (He survived Starro, and is now an A-One Cosmic Hard-Ass again).

    With Darkseid gone, and Nekron kind of … WAY bigger … the DCU needs more massive cosmic villains. Brainiac is back in full force … perhaps its time Despero was as well.

    I like this. I can see this. It feels very redemptive … and Giffen’s up there on the crafty bastard meter. His Doom Patrol lately, for instance, is not shy about being willing to tackle some of Morrison’s crazier concepts and include them – and it doesn’t suck. It’s quite clear The Giff is more than qualified to play with complex toys. His foreshadowing is also quite good, and he’s not afraid to subvert expectations.

    Plus, I love it when simple fixes suddenly make so much god damn sense that we slap our heads and think “Wait, have they planned this for years?” even when we know they haven’t. It takes a really good writer to turn convoluted continuity into a fun puzzle to re-read and to make years of confusion actually have a worthwhile payoff.

  20. You know, I consider Countdown to Infinite Crisis to be one of the worst comics of the decade, but like Identity Crisis (also one of the worst) the creators of the DCU seemed so wedded to it as the foundation for what they were going to do it shocked me that they’re actually moving towards retconning some of it and giving Max a redemption arc. And Winick’s okay with it.

  21. Wininck loves redemption. I mean, he brought Jason Todd back.

  22. @clay: Giffen did a run on Suicide Squad that was mostly overlooked, but I enjoyed. I thought it was some of the best dialog since Bendis came along, not sure how many would agree with me though.

  23. Nice idea, but a WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY more logical scenerio would be to blame Max’s turn to evil on Rip Hunter (who’s tenure in Booster Gold has him as an equally evil figure, not only out to enslave Booster Gold, but force Booster to do all of the heroics that Rip will take credit for as far as his own reputation being built on the back of Booster’s hard work). Maybe even toss in Mr. Mind as Rip’s accomplice (since he hates Booster too).

    Why would Rip do it? Connect it via DC FINALLY taking the Booster and Blue Beetle subtext and making it text: Rip Hunter’s entire existence hinges on preventing Booster and Ted from declaring their love for each other. Ted has to die, die before Booster comes to terms with his homosexuality so that Rip can manipulate Booster into having heterosexual intercourse and conceive Rip. A Rip Hunter who will loathe his father for his repressed homosexuality and who will punish his father, as an adult, by ruining his credibility while at the same time, enslaving him to force him to go on all of the adventures to save time and space, adventures that Rip will later claim to have done in order to make himself kind of the Time Travel hill.

    Of course, for this to work, Geoff and Winnick will have to man up, kill Jaime off and bring Ted back and not only unite Ted and Booster, but end with them declaring their love and erasing the evil Rip Hunter from existence (replacing him with a pre-evil/Geoff Johns written version of Rip Hunter, who’s existence we learn is caused because Booster offered up his sperm to Rip’s mom so she can have a baby.

    But with Geoff obsessed with ramming his pet project Jaime down viewers throats (and bragging about how he’s got Hollywood wanting to make a live action version of his creation), not to mention the hack Winnick in charge of the book (an Winnick being one of the top guys saying Booster will never come back so long as he holds any stroke at DC), the simplest way to fix this mistake that should never of happened to begin with will never be undone.

    Frak, they could have even fixed the whole farce by doing what Marvel did with “Magneto as Xorn”: it turns out that the Max Lord who killed Ted/killed by Wonder Woman was a clone created by Lex Luthor that somehow got freed from one of Lex’s secret cloning farms. The White Lantern resurrects the REAL Max Lord and after a “How the hell could you have ever thought I would have killed Ted/hurt you guys” rant from the real, resurrected Max and WW using her lasso to validate the story, the whole thing is never mentioned again much in the same way Planet X hasn’t been mentioned AT ALL since Excalibur 1-2 brought Magneto back and retconned that story.

    (Granted, you’d still have to kill Jaime and bring Ted back but hey, if they can kill off a GOOD replacement character like the new Atom, then killing a sh*t character like Jaime off, Geoff be damned, should be child’s play to restore the proper status quo).

  24. @JesseBaker: Yes, yes, way more logical indeed.

    (What the hell did I just read?)

  25. If Jesse wasn’t completely wrong about every single thing he said about Jaime Reyes, I would probably have agreed with him.

  26. @Prodigal: Does this include agreeing with the part where they trade retconning a villain back into a hero with retconning one of DC’s earliest Silver Age heroes into a self-serving homophobe?

  27. @Gavrok: No, just with the fact that DC ought to bring Ted back. Sorry for not being clearer there.

    I figure that if as a Green Lantern fan I can have Hal, John, Guy and Kyle, as a Blue Beetle fan I can also have Ted and Jaime.

  28. @Neil: Man I’m so glad to not be alone in enjoying the Giffen Suicide Squad run…

    @Jesse: “Geoff’s pet project Jaime”. Er, other than some appearances when he was writing Booster Gold and maybe Teen Titans how often has Johns even written Jaime Reyes?

  29. Very well thought out. Hopefully you actually have stumbled on to Giffen’s plans, as it sounds like a very interesting way to take the story.

  30. @Neil: LOVED Giffen’s Suicide Squad. His Amanda was a bit off but not nearly as bad as Rucka’s. Interesting dialogue, and better than Bendis, but it really obscured the story too much.
    @Brian Cronin: Well, Giffen hasn’t been credited as writer since the first issue. This is Winick’s doing.

    I guess this clears up who wrote the “Why do you think I kept the JLA so ineffective for so long?” Once again, Geoff, your shame betrays you.

  31. […] Gavok at the 4th Letter has a theory about Max Lord that is cool enough to pass along. DC will almost surely veer wildly from this kind of […]

  32. I mean…okay, but it’s way too convoluted to matter to me anymore. Maybe it’s just because I started reading DC with 52. I don’t even think I’ve ever read a story with Despero in it, and he looks stupid as hell, and Blackest Night, combined with this recent Avengers crud, cut my Big Two monthlies down to Heralds and Batman and Robin.

    Max Lord? Just let the character disappear and be forgotten. I like Giffen all right and I know there’s a lot of nostalgia for his run on Justice League, but it’s old, old, old news.