INTERVIEW: Nicole Maines and her “Quasi-Unhealthy Relationship” with Nia Nal aka Dreamer
Multiverse of Color sat down with Nicole Maines on top of the DC booth at San Diego Comic-Con 2023. After quoting Paul Rudd’s Hot Ones interview with each other, we got into the details of her obsession with Nia Nal (Dreamer), the journey bringing her into comics canon, and what life is like for her amidst the strikes and surge of anti-trans legislation.
Interview edited for clarity.
“Now we get to explicitly see our stories being reflected back at us.”
To say Nicole Maines is multitasking is putting it very mildly. She’s busy with Nia Nal’s trek from the Supergirl television series to her very own graphic novel. In the midst of all this, she’s a striking actor who is trans and outspoken about anti-trans legislation popping up around the country, as well as the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes currently going on. I asked how she was juggling everything.
“Thank you for asking. It is a very difficult time, I have been struggling with not being okay. It’s just a constant assault from every angle it feels like,” Maines shared. “I will say that I am very, very grateful to have the opportunities to write these comics and to have the opportunities to tell stories with this character. I think superheroes, comic books, stories in general are our escapes, and our vehicles to talk about these issues that seem so impossibly big, in a way that is easily digestible for all ages.”
“It has definitely been a therapy for me,” she continued. “It’s been an opportunity for me to focus on something positive, focus on creating something, focus on giving something back to the community to say, ‘Hey, I know things suck. I know we are being attacked from every angle. Here’s something to make you smile today, here’s something to get excited about’.”
That something is her upcoming graphic novel, Bad Dream: A Dreamer Story, dropping next year, April 2024.
“Some people who have always seen themselves in comics don’t understand [need for representation], because there’s always been such a vast well of characters that they can identify with. For us [LGBTQ+ community], it’s always been this is a character who I think is cool and doing some generous dot-connecting or headcanoning and say ‘I identify with this character’. But now we get to explicitly see our stories being reflected back at us. I think people don’t understand that when we’re talking about representation,” Maines added.
Dreamer: “She’s like my baby, but also she is me and I am her.”
SYNOPSIS: The never before told origin story of DREAMER: the first trans superhero ever to appear on TV! Nia Nal spent her whole life taking a back seat to her older sister, Maeve, who’s expected to inherit their mother’s Naltorian powers––the ability to see the future through dreams. They’ll soon learn that the dreaming powers had other plans… When Nia’s hit in the face with a kickball, the powers that weren’t meant for her are suddenly triggered. Saddled with guilt, Nia resolves to suppress her powers in an attempt to protect her relationship with her sister. But Nia can’t keep the dreams out forever…
Nia Nal’s beginnings are rooted in Maines’ own personal history. She was announced at 2018 San Diego Comic-Con as the first transgender superhero (played by an actor who is trans) for the Supergirl television series. Since then, Dreamer has made her debut in comics canon in DC Pride 2022 and has made several comics appearances since then, notably in Superman: Son of Kal-El and the Lazarus Planet crossover event.
“I have a quasi-unhealthy relationship with this character, but that’s also why I’m in therapy and it’s fine,” Maines said, with a chuckle. “I can unpack that as I need to. I was just saying earlier, she’s like my baby, but also she is me and I am her. It’s just been a really incredible experience, because Dreamer became a part of my life in a time when I had moved away from home, I was in a new country. I was getting to become my own person, as she was being developed and evolving.”
Maines continued: “Having that happen side by side and simultaneously, the two merged together and got intertwined. Now getting to write for her in the comics, it’s just been incredible and getting to tell all of these stories that I’ve had floating around in my empty brain, it’s been really exciting. Getting to see the response to it has been so exciting and people are loving it. I’m so grateful.”
Bad Dream is ultimately about two sisters (Nia and Maeve) at odds, a story Maines said DC Comics was looking for.
“This story begins in a place for Dreamer, where she has resigned herself to being a supporting character in her own life. Her sister, Maeve, is the star. She’s getting the power, she is going to be a superhero. Nia is like, it’s fine. I’ll be the guy in the chair. I’ll be designing her supersuit and I will be rooting for her from the bleachers,” Maines said, sharing Nia’s perspective.
“They’re growing up in an incredibly diverse town filled with alien refugees on Earth and the weirdest thing they have ever seen is a trans girl. There is no support for Nia outside of her family and her sister. Her sister is her only friend and she will do anything for her,” Maines continued. “When she realizes she has these powers that Maeve has always wanted, she’s thinking ‘I know she hates being seen with me. I know she has to put up with so much crap just for being my sister, now I have taken this from her too. She can’t know so I have to run away. I have to put distance between us. I have to figure out what to do, so I don’t ruin her life completely.’”
Maines says Nia’s struggle is ultimately a “less subtle metaphor for queerness” because at the end of the day, she’s going to have to make a choice, a realization of sorts, like most queer people do.
“Do you want to live your life for other people? Do you want to sacrifice parts of who you are to make other people more comfortable, to make other people more happy? We as people have our multifaceted identities; do we want to sacrifice who we are, our own happiness and our own comfortability for the sake of making other people more comfortable? Or maybe they’re just going to have to sort their own stuff out. That’s not our responsibility,” Maines said.
“Nia’s powers are so rooted in feminine energy and being passed down from mother to daughter. So we grapple a little bit with that gotcha question they love ‘what is a woman?’ Talking about the ‘who’ versus the ‘what’; that being a woman is something that is different culture to culture. It’s all about who you are, being a hero is all about being who you are,” Maines said, with a smile.
It speaks to how much passion she has for not just this character, but for the queer community as a whole. A strong story with a poignant message: live your life for you and no one else. Maines wanted to make sure the community was represented in the book with things like ballroom culture.
“We’re in a time now where so many stories have already been told. It’s time to expand to these communities that have such a rich culture and history. In Bad Dream, I get to illustrate ballroom for people who have never experienced that before. While also understanding, I’m not exactly the person to be telling a ballroom story, but it’s nice to have a few pages to get to say, this is a part of queer culture,” Maines explained.
She understands her privilege as a white woman and is careful not to cross a line into appropriation, but show appreciation for ballroom. She goes on to praise her supportive family, upbringing and gender-affirming care she received when she was younger. So much of her own self is poured into Nia’s story, which always makes for an engrossing story.
“I think it’s good for Nia too, to get to experience people who are like her, but not like her. Getting to see the contrast in their experiences, find the ways that they’re similar and find the ways that they’re different. Find sisterhood in a more healthy way and show that found family can be just as valid and as important as as birth family,” Maines said.
“We’re getting to showcase this queer, trans sisterhood and friendship.”
We continued to talk about Nia’s journey and Maines brought up another trans character created by fellow trans writer, Jadzia Axelrod.
“I’m very, very excited to get to say that Galaxy (from Galaxy, the Prettiest Star) is in this comic. I’ve been talking to Jadzia a lot about it. Nia comes to Metropolis, she meets Taylor and Pat and Argos. (I love Argos.) We’re getting to showcase this queer, trans sisterhood and friendship. It’s such a squad. It’s so fun,” Maines gushed.
Galaxy has recently made her appearance in Axelrod’s new Hawkgirl series. The two heroes link up and Dreamer gets name dropped.
“Jadzia has been so excited about Hawkgirl. She’s been sending me all the panels. I was very excited to see that there was a panel, mentioning Dreamer, where Taylor gets on the phone. I remember the text conversations where we were going back and forth. We’re like ‘Oh my God and then what if this happened? Yeah, there’s a lot of bird girls!’” Maines shared, giggling. “Getting to see it make its way into the comics, that directly came from two trans comic writers goofing off in text threads together.”
It’s not lost on Maines how powerful these moments are between her and Axelrod as fellow women writers in a predominantly cis- and male-focused industry.
“I love her. It feels like she and I are in the trenches at DC [Comics],” she said, gesturing with her hands. “‘HERE’S A TRANS GIRL, THEY’RE MORE POWERFUL THAN ANYBODY!’ I love these characters. I can’t wait for people to get to see we’re expanding more on how Cyandii and Naltor are connected. It’s just really cool. It’s awesome to have an overflow of trans characters to work with, to have them interact all together.”
Dreamer, Dream Girl, Brainiac-5, Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes
Of course, I couldn’t let Nicole go without asking if we’ll ever see Nia connect with her descendent, Nura Nal aka Dream Girl and Legion of Super-Heroes member. (It can totally happen because if it’s one thing the Legionnaires like to do it’s time travel.) She would love for it to happen, along with getting Nia and Brainiac-5 (“Brainy”) back together.
“I’m trying to get Brainiac [Brainiac-5] back. I was like, how do I get her boyfriend back? So that’s a direct way to talk about her descendants. I have something that’s been rattling around in my mind. It’s really sad, but I’m also a psychopath when I write. Picture me with my Barbies as a kid. I was telling drama, I was doing soap operas. I want high drama. I want betrayal. I want tears. I want long distance love across time,” Maines said, passionately.
She definitely recognizes the importance of Brainy and Supergirl’s previous canonical relationship from back in the day.
“I want to do it so badly, but of course also recognize the comic book origins of Brainy and Supergirl. I’m torn; do I do a love triangle or do I just do a throuple?” Maines teased.
There are other Legion members she would love to explore and gave her buddy and former co-worker, Jesse Rath (DCTV’s Brainiac-5), a shoutout.
“I feel like just for Jesse I gotta throw in Bouncing Boy and Matter-Eater Lad, because he loves those two so much. I feel like I got to do that for my boy. Mysa [Nal], of course, I want to do Nura and I want to do Mysa. I’m just excited to get to go to Naltor and explore the origins of the Seers and also the origin of the Dreamer,” Maines shared.
Most importantly of all is diving deeper into Naltorian abilities and why Nia can do things no one else can do.
“I’m interested in exploring what makes Nia different; what separates her as the Dreamer versus the Seer. She has all of these powers that historically Naltorians have not had. Typically, they see the future in their dreams. Now she’s out here doing lassos and ropes and energy blasts and shields and dream constructs. I’m very interested in going back to Naltor and figuring out why she can do this. What is it about her that has given her the opportunity to bring the dream realm into our dimension?”
Bad Dream: A Dreamer Story is coming next April 2024. Check out Nia Nal’s other appearances including Superman: Son of Kal-El and the Lazarus Planet crossover event.