The plot is pretty basic. Max Lord is back from the dead as a result of Blackest Night. I had bailed long before Max was turned into a villain with the ability to control other people's actions and thoughts. I did know about that from reading 52, but that wasn't necessary, as it was explained repeatedly in this series. Max's abilities have been heightened, and, with some help from old JLI equipment that has sat abandoned for who knows how long, he uses the ability to get everyone in the world to forget who he is or that he exists.
He also manages to wipe out any data on him, which I never fully grasped. The plot device of wiping someone out from existence is more and more difficult with the advance of technology. It's easy for someone to cease to exist in an era before birth records and no more rapid communication than the fastest horse. Not so easy now when there are records of us all scattered throughout paper files and electronic files.
For his own reasons, Max leaves Captain Atom, Ice, Fire and Booster Gold as the only people who recall his existence and the threat he poses. These four at first think it's because they were in the same JLI building when Max wipes out everyone else's recall, but it's later revealed this was Max's intent. From here forward he uses them as pawns to further his own agenda.
The rest of the story is just one chase and fight after another. They get the latest Blue Beetle, Jaime Reyes, and the Rocket Red from back in the old days, who are both eventually able to recall Max, and the pursuit runs all around the world, through various fights against Checkmate, the Metal Men, Power Girl, the Creature Commandos and Magog. A few thousand people are killed in Chicago. Captain Atom gets sent into distant futures on two occasions, a side effect of absorbing high energy levels to protect others.
In the end, Max takes over control of Checkmate and is known by the world again, though he maintains that he is being slandered by any accusations of misdeeds and represents himself, and the Checkmate he now controls, as acting in the interest of humanity to protect it from rogue super heroes. Our JL(I) forced him to reveal his existence again, but that doesn't seem to have slowed his plan to control Checkmate.
I'll start with the pluses. Plus number one is that Magog is dead. Easily the single most irritating character to come out of the JSA, ever, his demise is unlikely to last, but I'll take it while I've got it.
Number two is the characterization. Winnick, and initially Giffen, too, do a very good job with Blue Beetle, Rocket Red, Booster Gold, Fire, Ice and Captain Atom. There are issues that focus on each of them but even in the more common group scenes where they're fighting someone they come across as fully formed and dynamic. I particularly like Rocket Red clinging to communism but putting his political beliefs aside for the greater good of working with his friends, paragons of Western decadence. Ice's back story was especially appreciated, too, as I really didn't recall much about her, and I think there were things done new in this series. Blue Beetle, as always, was a great window into the super hero world, his novelty at it still being a fine trait.
The third plus was the time travel bits with Captain Atom. The two futures he visited were, as all futures since Uncanny X-Men 141 and 142, dystopian. No one ever has a happy future. Still, it was a fun element.
Finally, many of the covers were very good. The first few were a bit weak, but various guest artists came in to supply some very nice covers with fine styling.
On the other hand, there were things that detracted from the story. Most of those had to do with the deus ex machina that is Max Lord. As powerful as he is in this story, there's no reason for this complicated plot to take over Checkmate, and, oh a side killing of Wonder Woman for revenge. Part of the plot involves him taking on the guise of the White King of Checkmate. Why not just go from there to taking over Checkmate without all the running around of the JL(I)? It seems like an extraordinarily easy feat, given his power level. The only fallback is that he's a bit deranged like a Silver Age villain creating unnecessary layers of planning to accomplish a simple end. A Rube Goldberg of sorts. But this story wants to be taken seriously as something important in the DCU, so it feels off that Max is going to these unnecessary lengths.
One of the detractions that didn't have to do with Max was Wonder Woman. When the story starts she's a major figure, a hero known to all. Of course, everyone's forgotten she killed Max because he wiped it from all history when he wiped himself from history, but everyone knew who she was. By the end of the book no one knows who she is. It has nothing to do with Max but whatever was going on with her own book. She's in the half jacket costume and is just starting to establish herself as a hero when Max's OMACs track her down to kill her. The part of this that has to do with Max is that he wants revenge but why? He's back from the dead, more powerful than before. At this point no one remembers who either of them are, nor does she recall him. How does one get revenge on someone who has no way of knowing she'd done you wrong? And why not just use his own power to take her over and fly her into the sun or something? She was bound to show up some time, and when the story first started she was easy to find.
Which brings up something else. I didn't read any of Brightest Day, so maybe I missed something, but Max says that he remembers being one of the dead that were fighting the heroes in Blackest Night. Wasn't part of that story line that the dead weren't actually the people who had died but reanimated bodies with a semblance of the dead person's memories? Oh, hell, I don't know why I'm even asking. It doesn't matter a whit.
Then there's the idea that Max is doing all this to protect humanity from the super heroes. I thought that was Lex Luthor's motivation these days. Why's Max playing Lex here? And along those same lines we have Captain Atom bemoaning that he's becoming less human and feeling more removed from interest in human affairs. What, we're the Watchmen now? Kind of coming full circle, then.
If you didn't read this in the singles, you haven't missed anything terribly earth shattering, or even earth quaking. If you get a chance to read it on the cheap, it's worth a look. If you're looking for the humor of the old JLI, this isn't your book, with the exception of a few moments, particularly with Rocket Red. If you like nosebleeds, definitely get this book.