Artificial intelligence has had a long history of villainy in comics. From Ultron to Braniac, it’s been used as a kind of comment on humanity’s capacity to create the things that’ll end up destroying it. It represents a cruel change of the guard, a challenge to existential hierarchies that put humans at the top and every other form of life below it.

mark waid

This changes in Mark Waid and Dan Mora’s Absolute Power, the new DC event in which the DCU goes up against a different kind of AI threat: misinformation. The story sees Amanda Waller give the Justice League one if its toughest battles yet, fought in a public arena where truth can be manufactured by feeding AI systems the necessary prompts to take command over fact and opinion. Failsafe (from Chip Zdarsky’s Batman) is involved in this with Waller, establishing a partnership that will breed the kind of heroes they think our world needs. The question here isn’t how the DCU will get out of this one. Rather, it’s more about who will ever believe the heroes won if AI generates videos showing they lost or that they were the bad guys all along.

Absolute Power is essentially, for all intents and purposes, a fully-fledged DC crisis. It has the potential to reach the same highs as the previous ones just on the basis of what’s at stake. What sets it apart from other crises is how painfully current it feels. In the comics industry alone, cover artists have been caught using AI-generated images for pricier or rarer variants, and accusations are starting to multiply as new methods of corroboration on the use of AI in images start becoming more readily available.

Absolute Power has the potential to become the defining comics event of our times. Plain and simple. The Beat sat down with Mark Waid to talk AI not just one the fictional side of things, but also on the implications of its presence in comics as a whole and whether we should resist it.

mark waid

RICARDO SERRANO: Your stance on AI is pretty clear in Absolute Power, especially on what evils it can breed and how disruptive it can be. What are you hoping to bring to the conversation with this event and how can superheroes help amplify that?

MARK WAID: It starts with knowing AI isn’t something you can punch. Look, there are roles for AI in the world. I’ve spoken to a number of people who use it for writing grant proposals or fill in charity applications and so forth. AI is enormously helpful for something like that. AI is helpful for people who can’t really write. It can help them put things together that need to be put together in a specific way. But it’s also easy for someone like Amanda Waller, especially with the power of Brainiac behind her, to be able to convince the world that superheroes are burning children in orphanages with their heat vision.

SERRANO: And it’s interesting that it’s Amanda Waller doing it. Someone with access to the most advanced tech out there to make this happen. All of which speaks to the things that can be done with AI when it’s in the hands of someone with the resources to do some real damage.

WAID: We wanted Amanda Waller versus the DC Universe. It’s something DC has been building up to pretty consistently over the last couple of years. And it’s not to go for the moustache-twirling big bad of events past. It’s about a big bad with a conscience. She can engage with a set of ethics and morals that is more similar to ours rather than that of a superhero’s. Beast World was the tipping point. That’s where she took things as far as she could to make the Titans look like villains to help sell her idea that superheroes are more a problem than they are a blessing.

SERRANO: Your track record in comics, and events specifically, is legendary. You’ve seen it all. What role do you think events have in today’s comics? Have you changed anything in your approach to them?

WAID: I’m not interested in them unless the stakes are really, truly high across the DC Universe. It’s hard to do. You’ve got so many years of comics to draw from. At times, it’s too much. So I’m always aware of what came before. But, really, the approach is the same. Take a bunch of heroes and come up with a problem that is unique but still manages to raise the stakes to a world-shattering level. Then we see what the heroes can do when the odds are so stacked against them. It’s not the Joker. It’s not Toyman. It’s not the Cheetah. This is big time stakes.

SERRANO: You bring up an interesting question with this event regarding the superhero’s ability to do more than they do to fix society. Where’s the limit on that? What are the challenges of writing a story like that?

WAID: It’s about what the personal stakes are for each of the characters involved and how they feel about the situation. The thing is, not every single superhero thinks the exact same way. Not every superhero has the same exact outlook on a particular problem. Some of them don’t agree with Waller so much, but they can see her point of view more easily than say Superman or Wonder Woman can. Playing with that in the story is fun. Stories are about characters. That’s the bottom line. You can set up all the crises you want. You can set up all the villains you want. At the end of the day, it’s about how human beings wearing superhero costumes deal with difficult situations, and how it affects them on a personal level.

SERRANO: Bringing it back to the industry, what standards should comics set when it comes to the use of AI in the process of production? Should AI art in books be taken as an inevitability?

WAID: I think it probably is, but it doesn’t mean we should accept that. My feeling is, the role of comics in AI is to take people who use it and shove them into a live volcano. In coming up with Absolute Power, we kind of knew that AI was going to be an increasingly important factor as we got closer to the 2024 elections. Knowing this made us feel like it was something we could sell on the comic by the time it got to print. We knew people would go “yeah, that’s a real threat.”

Below you’ll find some of the variant covers for Absolute Power #1The first issue of this event will hit the stands on July 3rd, 2024.

Variant cover by Jim Lee
Variant cover by Puppeteer Lee
Variant cover by Stephen Bliss
Variant Cover by Chris Samnee
Variant cover by Chrissie Zullo
Connecting variant cover by John Timms