Max Dillon was born in Endicott, New York, to Anita and Jonathan Dillon. Jonathan had a nasty temper and took it out on his wife and son. It likely also created problems in his job as an accountant, as he was often fired and forced the family to move to a new town. Jonathan left his wife and son when Max was around eight years old and Anita leaned heavily on her son. She was over protective and often reminded him "You're all I have."
Anita felt betrayed when Max decided that he wanted to go to college to study electrical engineering or to be a scientist. She told him that he didn't have the brains or discipline to be an engineer. She suggested that he become an accountant, like his father. Anita died near Max's twenty fifth birthday but his life didn't get any better. He got married six months after her death but the marriage was a short one. His wife encouraged him to follow his dream as a engineer or to apply for a management job at the electric company. He glumly told her that he didn't have the brains for jobs like those. She eventually left him.
Max kept his job as a lineman and one day his boss ordered him to climb up an electrical pole to save a fellow lineman, who had been shocked at the top of the pole. Max did it when he was guaranteed a bonus check and was struck by lighting when at the top. He found that the strike had given him the ability to generate and control electricity and embarked on a criminal career as a thief. (Amazing Spider-Man #422)
Psychopathology: An Insecure Dynamo
Despite being nearly god-like in power, Dillon has always felt like a little man. Soon after being granted his power, he was approached by Erik Lensherr, a mutant terrorist with abilities similar to Max's. He hoped to recruit Max into his Brotherhood of Mutants but he refused. "Let me tell you something, bullet head: My whole damn life nobody ever missed a chance to make me feel small. But that lightning strike? That was karma, baby. That was somebody upstairs saying I don't have to take other people's garbage anymore!" (Web of Spider-Man, vol 2 #2)
Dillon was always sensitive to other people's criticism. After he was released from prison, he was visited by his parole officer, who praised him for saving some co-workers at a TV studio when a electrical cable shorted out. (Being invulnerable to electricity, Dillon was able to walk past the cable and shut off the power with ease.) Despite the parole officer's approval, Dillon still thought of him as a "smug punk." Back in his apartment, Dillon promised himself that "When I'm ready to go back into action--as Electro again--nobody's gonna push me around! Nobody!" (Amazing Spider-Man #82)
His sensitivity was still there after he tried to increase his electrical power by strapping himself into a electric chair. After getting beaten by Spider-Man again, Max was at his wits end. "Y-you're like all the rest...like my own father. You think that I'm a useless nothing! A pathetic loser! A perennial failure! You are so wrong!" After being finally defeated, he tries to commit suicide by falling into New York harbor. Electricity + water = boom. (Amazing Spider-Man #425)
Momma's Boy Gone Bad
After Jonathan Dillon left his family, Anita depended on her son. She didnt allow him to play with other kids, because she was afraid he might hurt himself. She repeatedly told him "You're all I have." This kind of role reversal between parent and child is called parentification. The parent stops looking after the child and the child starts meeting the needs of the parent. Parentified children can look after a parent's physical needs (like always doing all of the cooking and cleaning) or emotional needs (being an emotional confidant.)
Young children are not yet emotionally mature enough to take on the worries and fears that adults have. It seems that Anita parentified Max by leaning on him emotionally and not letting him have a carefree childhood. Parentified children grow up to have emotional problems, can be very angry people and have trouble forming stable romantic relationships. Max never married again after his wife left him but he did form somewhat of a relationship with a shape shifting Ukrainian prostitute. (Marvel Knights Spider-Man #2) Still, not the most stable of love affairs.
A Very Sick Man
Money has always been Dillon's preoccupation and it was no different when he kidnapped young Barry Starr, son of movie star Robert Starr. Little did Electro know, but Barry had been bitten by a rat shortly before his kidnapping and had contracted what seemed to be pneumonic plague. Barry was sent to a specialist in New York, where he was kidnapped by Dillon, who demanded that Robert pay him one million dollars. S.H.E.I.L.D., Captain America and Spider-Man rescued Barry but not before the boy passed the bacterial infection to Max. Electro became sick and in a panic, tried to burn the infection out of himself with extra electricity. The power plant he was hiding out in overloaded when he tried to pull all of the electricity out of it and it blew up. (Amazing Spider-Man #187)
Two clues suggest that the type of plague Barry and Electro were infected with was pneumonic. First, Dillon was often coughing as he spoke, which is a symptom of pneumonic plague but not of the other two types. Second, Captain America was very concerned with keeping the area around the power station quarantined. He thought to himself, "There's no way to isolate a disease as deadly as this." Pneumonic plague is the least common of the three types of plague but is the most dangerous. It is caused when an animal or person coughs up bloody phlegm which can spread to another person's lungs and cause rapid deterioration. Respiratory failure and shock can result in less than two days. Antibiotics need to be administered within a day of infection or the condition is likely to be fatal.
Max's fixation on his parents and wife's disappointment in him most likely caused him to become depressed. The parental rejection he dealt with from his father likely caused him to become depressed, as well as the emotional stress he dealt with in living with his mother's needs. Always a crook at heart, perhaps he saw money as a way of dealing with his depression. More likely, cognitive therapy would have eased his symptoms. Researchers have found that changing the way a person thinks has a greater effect on improving mood than changing how the depressed person behaves.
Max Dillon suffered emotional abuse at the hands of his parents and rejection by his ex-wife. These traumas led him to think of himself as a loser and he tried to "self medicate" with money and violence. Constant defeat by Spider-Man only increased his negative self image and depression, resulting in a hatred of the wall crawler. Cognitive therapy may help with his anger and depression but his receptiveness to the idea is in question.