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Nicole Maines on Dreamer drama, event fallout, and growing pains in 'Absolute Power: Ground Zero' #1

Comic Books

Nicole Maines on Dreamer drama, event fallout, and growing pains in ‘Absolute Power: Ground Zero’ #1

The prelude to DC’s next big universe-shaking event is due out later this month.

Next month, DC Comics officially launches its next big event with Absolute Power. Spanning a veritable deluge of titles, Absolute Power is the culmination of months of storytelling, and officially sees Amanda Waller try to “neutralize” DC’s metahumans with her own army (made up of the Suicide Squad, Failsafe, and Brainiac Queen).

But before the whole DCU goes to battle, the publisher is releasing Absolute Power: Ground Zero #1. The multi-creator book will “bridge the events of Batman, Superman: House of Brainiac, and Suicide Squad: Dream Team” and “brings Waller’s total dominance to the doorsteps of the world’s finest heroes.” The 48-pager is broken down into three sections, with contributions from Mark Waid (aka Absolute Power‘s mastermind,) Nicole Maines, Joshua Williamson, Skylar Partridge, Dan Mora, Chip Zdarsky, and many more.

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Absolute Power: Ground Zero #1 arrives on shelves on June 25. (Absolute Power #1 drops July 3). To get a better idea of at least one section — involving Dreamer, Jay Nakamura, and some other big players/happenings — we caught up recently with the aforementioned Maines. Over Zoom, we discussed the arc of Dreamer’s story and larger role in the DCU; Maines’ thoughts on big events like Absolute Power; the emotional fallout for Jay; how to best write Waller; and maybe even what might come next, among some other topics and tidbits.

Nicole Maines on Dreamer drama, event fallout, and growing pains in 'Absolute Power: Ground Zero' #1

Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: You’ve written for other events, including Lazarus Planet. As someone who is still new-ish, do you have any thoughts on these big events?

Nicole Maines: I just feel very honored to be included and to be a part of it as someone who’s such a new writer. So I’m very, very grateful to be a part of it. It’s definitely intimidating. I think there’s so many moving parts. I felt there were so many times where I was like, ‘Who’s that? What’s that? Who’s that?’ I was not at all really aware of any of Khalid Nassour’s story when I wrote Lazarus Planet. And so DC sent me a bunch of PDFs and I read all of those. So this one is much easier because these were characters that I know and characters that I’ve written before. I can do this.

It’s really hard just because sometimes I feel like there are so many moving parts and so every writer has an idea of what they want to do. And I’m like, ‘Can we get on like a group call? So I know what’s happening. I have no idea what’s happening.’

AIPT: I often prefer newer writers for events because it feels like we can figure it all out as one big group.

NM: It’s very nice.

AIPT: Similarly, I’m curious about what it was like to work with Mark Waid? He’s just got such wealth of DC knowledge.

NM: I didn’t get intimidated at all. I just think he’s fun to talk to. I just like comic book people. I just like hearing that process and he was very, very easy to work with. And, yeah, just super respectful and professional. He always had really good ideas and was really open to what I wanted to do and respected my Dreamer knowledge and let me take the reins in that regard.

We were trying to figure out what the best way to move some stuff around and to include some stuff was. And there was a scene that I really, really, really wanted to put into Suicide Squad: Dream Team that, with four issues, just wasn’t going to fit. And then this came along and we were like, ‘What if we use that scene?’ And so it’s this perfect tie-in between the events of Suicide Squad building up into Absolute Power. It reminds us where Dreamer is in all of this now and how she’s feeling in regards to what she’s done and what she’s doing and with Amanda Waller and her friends. And I got to work with Skylar Patridge again, who did my story on Lazarus Planet. So it was perfect.

AIPT: Event buddies.

NM: Event buddies, but also real-life buddies. Her partner lives five minutes from me. And so we’re hanging out all the time. We just got our nails done yesterday together.

AIPT: Nice. The team that gets their nails done…something something.

Nicole Maines on Dreamer drama, event fallout, and growing pains in 'Absolute Power: Ground Zero' #1

Courtesy of DC Comics.

You already mentioned Dreamer, and obviously she’s a big part of this section. How do you feel about her arc and ongoing development coming into Absolute Power, especially because this feels like a big moment for Dreamer? How do you feel like you’ve done a good job guiding her?

NM: I mean, I don’t know if I did a good job guiding her. I think I did a really good job breaking her down and destroying her and dismantling her to an atomic level to the point where you would almost wonder how she hasn’t unalived herself yet, as the kids would say on the TikTok. I mean, it’s been really fun. When I first started doing the Dreamer stories for the comics, I just wanted to tell the stories that we didn’t get to tell on Supergirl. We didn’t always get to go to that really dark place. Like, we’re airing this on Sunday on network television at 8 o’clock and people have work in the morning and also kids are watching us. So it has to be uplifting. So I didn’t always get a chance to like go there with her. And we didn’t really get a chance to see her do a really cool fight scene

And so for this, I really, really wanted to just get to explore all the of Dreamer’s sides…the things that you get to do in comic books that you don’t necessarily get to do on a TV show. Suicide Squad, I think, was perfect for that. It really made me take stock of exactly how much in such a short period of time that she’s really changed as a character. And she’s playing a very different role in the comics that she did on the show. Now she’s this unwilling antagonist accomplice to Amanda Waller; she doesn’t want to be doing this. Also the fact that Absolute Power is even happening is entirely her fault. I just think it puts her in a really interesting position. I think that she has changed so much, and she’s seen so much crap that she has been broken down. I’m excited now to get to build her back up into the superhero she’s going to grow up into being.

She’s only 18. She’s only really had these powers for three years. Now that she’s lost so much and she’s made so many mistakes and she’s not sure of who she is anymore. Am I even a hero? Who am I after all of this? Do I even get to say I’m a good guy? I think it puts her in a really exciting place going into the event.

AIPT: She is at that perfect spot to blossom into superhero-ness. I think that she’s at that moment that every good hero needs of, ‘Well, OK, is this your pivot moment?’

NM: It’s hard for her…and I would hope that I did a good enough job of this in Suicide Squad. Paul [Kaminski, editor] had to remind me a couple of times: ‘Remember not to make her irredeemable.’ It’s not her fault. She’s not choosing to do all of this. She’s an 18 year old girl put in an impossible like trolley scenario where Amanda Waller has put thousands and thousands of people on train tracks. And she’s like, ‘Pull the lever, b**ch.’

AIPT: Still, I never got the sense she’s completely gone.

NM: She’s at that perfect point where like, if just a little further and maybe she couldn’t come back, but like she’s right where she needs to be. She has the desire.

If it wasn’t for the fact that — I don’t know how spoiler we really can get in this — at least in terms of Suicide Squad, at this point in the comic, she’s trying to protect her family. And we know if it wasn’t for the fact that Amanda Waller had pulled out this last minute deus ex machina out of her hat, and being like, ‘Oh, did you think Parthas was the only dirt I had on you? Surprise, bitch.’ Like, ‘You’ll find that I did not put a bomb in your neck, not your family.’ And if it wasn’t for that, Amanda Waller would be dead. And fully at the end of Suicide Squad, Dreamer was like, ‘I’m going to kill this b**ch.’ Amanda Waller is totally fine with that — she’s like, ‘I’m fine with you having every intention of killing me because I’m so certain you’re not going to.’ And she’s right.

Nicole Maines on Dreamer drama, event fallout, and growing pains in 'Absolute Power: Ground Zero' #1

Variant cover by Mikel Janín. Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: And speaking of Waller, I feel like some people cast her as this total boogeyman. But I get the sense that you’re playing off that she’s a bit more complex. Like, you don’t have to like her or think that she’s like a redeemable person, but she’s not just as simple as I think others might assume.

NM: She doesn’t have an excuse, but she has many reasons for being the way that she does.

And that’s what I wanted to get at the end of Suicide Squad — there’s this great conversation between her and Dreamer where she does recognize…Like, ‘Oh, you’re mad at me for abusing my power? No f**king shit, I’m a black woman working for the United States government. Do you think I’m completely unaware of the life that I live?’ Like, ‘I had to claw and kick and scrape my way to the top. All the while taking shots at people who would rather you [Dreamer] and I both just be f**king dead and not have any seats at the table.’ She’s like, ‘You’re damn right I abused my power. Absolutely, because all of this has been building up to me being able to make some real lasting change.’ And that is what she keeps telling herself.

She thinks, ‘It’s all going to be worth it. It’s OK if I do this bad thing or this bad thing or if I pardon this guy or I turn a blind eye to this person’s creepy thumb drive, if it means that he’s going to be in my pocket and he’s going to vote the way that I tell him to.’ And that can be some change we can actually expect to see. So in her mind, she’s saying that if you can’t beat them, join them.

She’s just reserved herself to, ‘I have to play this game in order to change the rules. I have to be that person.’ And Dreamer, maybe because she’s young, maybe because she’s a better person than Amanda, who knows…Dreamer could be in a very similar boat…But Dreamer says, ‘No, we don’t get to do bad shit and say that it’ll be worth it later. That’s a f**king cop out and some BS.’

AIPT: They are paralleled very nicely. You don’t get to have your cake and eat it, too.

NM: You have to be a good person who does good things for good reasons, not some weirdly complicated monster. If I killed a hundred people to save one, one might argue that I’m just a murderer.

She can talk this big game and she can say, ‘How dare you? No, we have to do good. We have to do justice. No, the ends can’t justify the means. OK, well, then kill your family. ‘Wait, did I say ends can’t justify the means? I meant just this one time.’

It’s all easy to say all of that stuff. Like, what are we going to get at? It’s easy to be like, ‘Oh yeah, just do the right thing.’We all know what the right thing is. Dream, drown your family and be done with it. Like, would you be OK with being responsible? She’s 18 and she’s already kind of responsible for killing her mom. And so she cannot be the reason that more harm comes to her family in the middle of it. And so I would hope that people understand that as ‘you have to stop Amanda before all of this happens,’ can any of us truly blame this traumatized 18 year old girl for not wanting to hurt her family again?

We can understand why Dreamer did the things that she did. And we can also say Jay is 100% right to want to slap her in the mouth.

Absolute Power

Variant cover by John Timms. Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: And speaking of Jay, you’ve written him before.

NM: He’s mentioned in Suicide Squad.

AIPT: And I love his performance/presence here. He’s a catalyst for so much in your story section. What was it like having him here and having him go through all these deeply personal things?

NM: First off, he cannot catch a f**king break.

We maybe were finally going to say, ‘Jay Nakamura can thrive.’ Oh, never-f**king-mind, because Amanda Waller had to go and be Amanda Waller and push your mom out a window. He now has 100% every right to be as upset as he is. He should be angry. And he’s right to be angry at Dreamer. She chose her family over his. We can’t have expected her to do otherwise, but he gets to feel his feelings. And now for him, he’s going to have to move forward in a world where he had to take it on the chin a little bit. Like, ‘Oh, your mom’s dead? Poor guy, like let’s move on.’

He didn’t have to let the Suicide Squad into [Gamorra Island]. And, no, she didn’t know that was going to happen, but we could have surmised that Amanda Waller’s up to no good.

I’m excited to see where that relationship goes moving forward. I’m super interested. Especially for their friendship with Jon [Kent] as well. I love them together in Son of Kal-El. And I was so excited to be like, ‘Oh yeah, they’re going to be like besties and they’re all going to hang out.’ And that all happened off the page. Next time we see them together, I imagine it being like, ‘My mom’s dead and I’m going to kill you,’ and Jon’s like, ‘The weather sure is nice today.’ I think it’s going to force them to reevaluate their relationships and where they stand with each other. Because at the end of the day, you only do what you think is right in the moment.

I think Jay is 100% right. I think Dreamer is 100% right. What happens when that is the case? How do you move forward from there? How do we rebuild? We understand why you did what you did, but also that doesn’t change the fact that his mom is still dead and the country was turned into a metahuman super prison. And [Dreamer] could have stopped that, but you didn’t. It just gets messy and gross and weird and will they ever be friends again?

AIPT: Maybe frenemies is the best we can hope for.

NM: They’re all going to have to reevaluate who they are moving forward because they’re young and they’re coming up on this second puberty anyway of becoming adults and becoming adult superheroes. Who are we going to be in this new world? Especially after the events of Absolute Power — the entire landscape for these kids has changed and They’re all going to have to decide who they want to grow up to be and maybe the person that they are isn’t the person that’s going to be able to survive this.

Absolute Power

Interior art. Courtesy of DC Comics.

AIPT: I think them being young is as much a benefit for them as it is a negative. You have to realize that some of your opinions might change for the absolute worst and just have to give up.

NM: And they feel all of their feelings at a f**king 10.

AIPT: The last question I have is, while we’ve hinted at the future, is there a specific future for you with Dreamer and Suicide Squad?

NM: I’m neck deep in Absolute Power right now. This is going to change everything for Dreamer and for Jay and for Jon. I think that’s the best teaser I can give. They’re going have to decide if who they are is enough for the battles ahead.

At the end of Suicide Squad, Dreamer does not know who the f**k she is. And even in this story, she doesn’t know who she is. Does she even count as a hero anymore? Who knows? Hard to tell.

Like, ‘I tried and I was good.’ I had good intentions.’ Well, so did Amanda Waller. If anything, she’s maybe the most optimistic of all of us. She’s got a glass of nice scotch and a smile on her face.. And the rest of us are what? Depressed?

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