The new Supergirl TV show takes place in a world that already has Superman—and that’s a huge part of the show’s format. We know that the Man of Steel is out there, doing his incredible feats. So how long will Kara be feeling like second best to her cousin Kal-El? We asked the show’s producers at Comic-Con.

Minor spoilers ahead...

We took part in roundtable interviews about Supergirl this past weekend, and we were interested to find out just how the show will handle the Superman thing, going forward. Will she constantly be getting compared to Superman, and how much of a drag will this be? Will she be in his shadow forever?

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“That shadow is something we all face in life, whether it’s our boss or our brother, or our cousin,” said executive producer Ali Adler. “Or our cousin who flies over Metropolis.” Everybody has “someone that we’re all a little bit second-best to.”

So maybe when Supergirl shows up to deal with a situation, we might see people ask, “Why couldn’t we have him? Why did it have to be her?” But Adler promises that, “over the course of the season and the series, that question will matter less.” Also, she hints that Supergirl’s powers may not be exactly the same as Superman’s—she probably has what he has, but we don’t know what else she might have.

And Adler says that the special effects will be truly impressive in this series—there will be some amazing set pieces, she promises—but in the end, it’s all about the characters.

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One way in which Superman’s legacy will be felt in this show—the creators are using the Richard Donner movies as their touchstone, said producer Greg Berlanti. “The Donner films, when I was a kid, set such a standard,” said Berlanti. “We wanted to do something that was more at that level.” They keep coming back to the Donner films as a standard for how this show should feel. “It’s got comedy and it’s got heart and it’s got action,” and the action should feel real and dark, but “it’s not doom and gloom.”

And Adler said that Supergirl won’t always solve things in the same ways that a male hero would—but Berlanti added that it’s important for her to be just as powerful. Said Berlanti:

I hope that young women and young men see her as just as powerful as the male heroes, so many times we’re breaking stories or we’re pitching stories, and people say ‘would she do that?’ And if it was a guy and we were pitching it, nobody would have even asked those questions. So it’s interesting how we’re all still asking some of those things, and it would be nice to sort of move on to whatever the next phase of all that is.

Meanwhile, we also talked to Mehcad Brooks, who plays James Olsen, and who said this show has a great message for young women: “Live as who you are, be as big or as bright as you can shine.” When Brooks read the script, “I was tearing up a little bit,” because “that’s a struggle we’re all having: ‘Am I going to be my higher self, or am I going to hide?’” It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman—this is a story about someone coming into their own, that everyone can relate to.

Brooks said his version of James (not Jimmy) Olsen will be ultra-confident, because he’s already hung in there with Superman. And he’s won a Pulitzer prize for his photos of the Man of Steel. “He’s picked up some pointers from Superman,” said Brooks. “If your best friend is superman, you’re going to have some kind of confidence. It’s got to be great at the bar.”

“I’m not the first physical choice when it come to creating Jimmy Olsen,” said Brooks, but it shows that “this country is changing. You can’t blame people 75 years ago for creating what they knew. They knew a monochromatic world. We’re correcting some of the inequities.”

And given all the weird superpowered things that have happened to Olsen over the years—including stretching and becoming Turtle Boy—it’s just a matter of time before the television version gets some weird powers too, says Brooks. “They’re going to bring me into the heroic side of things sooner or later. I’m curious to see how that goes.”

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“Usually when you see a female hero they’ve had to abandon what made them a person, or made them human, because they had to become really tough,” said producer Andrew Kreisberg. But Supergirl will prove that a superhero can still be strong, vulnerable, and real. “Her ‘weaknesses’ are the things that make her a better hero.”


Contact the author at charliejane@io9.com.