My Adventures with Superman Creatives Discuss Episode 6’s Big Twist, Supergirl, and Dragon Ball References

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My Adventures with Superman Creatives Discuss Episode 6’s Big Twist, Supergirl, and Dragon Ball References

While there is no shortage of stories about the Man of Steel, through its first season and a half, My Adventures with Superman has already proven itself an excellent addition to the canon. Between how well it handles its central trio, Clark’s compelling struggles with his Kryptonian ancestry, and its general charm and humor, it has quickly become a standout in a crowded TV landscape, even if you’re not traditionally the biggest fan of Supes. In light of the tumultuous turns in Episode 6, we got a chance to speak with Jake Wyatt, a co-creator, showrunner, and writer on the series, as well as Kiana Madeira, the voice actor behind Supergirl. We talked about influences, the motivation behind certain creative decisions, and everyone’s favorite daughter of Krypton, Kara Zor-El.

Note: This conversation has been edited for length and clarity, and contains spoilers for Episode 6 of My Adventures with Superman.

Paste Magazine: There’s been countless takes on Superman over the years, he’s arguably the single most iconic superhero. With that in mind, what were some of the main things you want to do differently with My Adventures of Superman compared to other adaptations?

Jake Wyatt: So, the number one thing is we wanted to center the show on Clark Kent and his relationships. The basic starting premise from which Brendan [Clougher] and I worked was that Clark never gets a magic crystal that tells him like, “My name is Jor-El, you are my son, you’re from the planet Krypton.” Like, that doesn’t happen. So then, how does nice boy Clark Kent feel about all this? And he feels weird, he doesn’t feel great about it. And it takes him a while to warm up and become that. Season 1 was about how Lois and Jimmy kind of shape him, [and] push him into the space where he’ll become Superman.

And then Season 2 is about how Supergirl is going to challenge that persona he’s built, that sense of self that he’s developed, and fill in some more of his gaps or core questions, some of his knowledge about Krypton that he thinks he’s got. So yeah, we wanted to start him from a place of ignorance and, for lack of a better word, kind of fear, rather than the strength and self-assurance that Superman has always had, and then have him earn it. So the second he’s like, the fully matured, cool guy, I’m your dad, Superman, like the show’s over for me. I’m done.

Paste: Related to Clark, Lois, and Jimmy, their relationship is one of the strongest elements of the show. I’m curious, what were some narratives outside of Superman ones you were looking at for inspiration to nail the dynamic between the central trio?

Wyatt: Um, so a lot of like, sitcoms, honestly. We’re big sitcom, comedy people. And then a lot of anime. We play up the Dragon Ball influence a lot like, Kiana’s character shows up in her debut dressed as Android 18 from Dragonball Z. A legally distinct [version], I should point out [Laughs]. But we pulled just as much from like, slice-of-life stuff. Without getting too weird, stuff like Toradora or Anohana, these little shows that are purely about characters and their relationships. Because I think those always have to be the stakes, right?

Like, we want big, huge world-ending battles between Supergirl and Superman, but what that fight in Episode 5 was really about was like, you hurt my feelings, you’re not who I hoped you’d be, and I’m going to beat the shit out of you until I feel better. So yeah, we looked at a lot of relationship-driven stuff because we knew what we wanted to do with the action, but we wanted to ground it in character and relationship dynamics.

Paste: Getting to Season 2 and Kara, it feels like one of the big differences between this show’s depiction of Kryptonians and a lot of other ones is that they are imperialist conquerors in this version. What motivated that storytelling decision?

Wyatt: So, a couple things. A thing that happens to a lot of American schoolchildren is that you get, like, one kind of story of your nation’s history and how your people came to be. And then, as you grow older, you’re like, “Wait a minute. There’s some pretty ugly things that went into this historically, that built the world that is so convenient for me.” And some of them we still live with. So, we wanted to kind of give that American journey to Clark, if that makes sense. Like, he didn’t do these things. He didn’t create this world, but now he has to deal with the consequences of what his ancestors did and the power that has given him. So, we thought that that was a near-universal American experience.

And then the other thing that we wanted to do is we’re like, “Okay, how does a planet come by a dude who shoots fire out of his eyes and can tear apart a tank?” What are the motivations that create that person? Right? What are the incentives that lead a culture to create this guy? And we’re like, they’re pretty martial, they’re pretty military [incentivized].

And then, you know, there’s famously a Superman writing problem, which I don’t think is a real problem, but it’s like, “He’s so strong, what do we do?” And it’s like, well, you have you have a whole race of people that he’s descended from that, like, want to beat his ass. That’s one thing that you can do if you’re worried about your guy being too strong. And they’re all trained, and they’re all meaner, and they’re all better, and they all they all knew more about fighting and combat. So, kind of all of those together.

Paste: For Kara specifically, there’s been a lot of different iterations of that character, like basically any comic book character. But I think a lot of people are very familiar with her from The CW show Supergirl. Were you worried at all about how people would respond to changing up the character’s backstory and what went into those choices?

Wyatt: That’s a really good question. Honestly, the version of Kara that ended up in the show is like, a little bit nicer than the one we had in development. I think my first drawing ever has like the anime shark teeth, the pointy ones [Laughs]. We wanted her to be a fun and lovable character, and we’re lucky that Kiana made that happen for us, right? Like Kiana’s debut as Kara is so charming that by the time she’s beating up Clark Kent, you’re still kind of on her side. You’re like, “Well, he was pretty rude. He was pretty dismissive, so maybe he has this coming.”

So we wanted her to be a character that won everybody over and that remained, if not sympathetic, at least compelling and relatable to a degree. But we also wanted her to be kind of—Clark’s shadow is not the right way to say this, but what could have been for him, right? Like, Clark gets found by Ma and Pa Kent, the nicest people who ever lived, and so he becomes the nicest boy in the world. And Kara gets found by an evil robot with imperial aspirations. So we wanted to show that she’s got the same kind of good heart as Clark. She’s just as forthright, and she’s her own person. Yeah, I wasn’t worried about fans getting mad because we wanted to treat the character with dignity and respect, we just wanted to make her interesting for our universe.

Paste: So for you, Kiana, definitely correct me if I’m wrong here, but I believe this series is one of your first voice acting roles. Are there any unique challenges or things you really like about voice acting compared to traditional acting?

Kiana Madeira: You’re correct, it is my first voice animation job. And it’s so different. It’s so different than acting on camera. I really love that it’s not about what you look like at all. Like, you pull up to the studio, you can be in your pajamas, and no one cares [Laughs]. It’s one of my favorite parts. But there’s also, kind of a vanity aspect that you lose, which I love. Inevitably, when you’re an on-camera actor, you spend an hour or two in hair and makeup sometimes, and so much of your performance ends up being judged by what your character looks like. There’s so many external factors, I think, that go into it. And when you’re in the booth, you can focus so much more on just the intention behind what you’re trying to get across and be like, super unapologetic and weird about it. Which, actually, I learned that from doing this job. I’m trying to bring that to my on-camera work, too, because I just think it serves a story so much more than being concerned at all about the physical aspects of the vanity side of things.

But, also, it’s really cool that we don’t see the animation as we’re recording, so it’s just, you know, you’re on Zoom with the directors and producers and the voice director. You kind of don’t really know how it’s all going to come together. So, as I’ve been watching, it’s really cool to see it come together because as much as you can read the script, it’s kind of hard to imagine the story. And now that I’ve been watching from Season 1 and getting to see Kara come to life, I’m like, “Wow, did I even know it was happening in the story before?” Like now, this just makes so much sense, they feel like real-life people. And I think it’s so cool that you could, from just being behind a microphone and saying words, [see] this whole universe come to fruition.

And another thing that’s also really different is you only say your lines in the script when you’re recording. I knew that, I’ve heard that before, but it’s my first time actually experiencing it. So you’re not actually acting alongside any of the other voice actors, you’re just saying your lines. And you go through them, however many times until the creatives have the variation that they need. But yeah, different, very different, challenging, but very, very fun.

Paste: Acting in a vacuum like that seems very challenging, do you think it’s a useful exercise for screen acting at all?

Madeira: Yeah, I think the imagination aspect of it all is just helpful in all aspects of being an actor, being a creator, writer, director, [with] everything you really have to use your imagination. And like I said before, be kind of unapologetic and a little bit fearless. And leave your ego to the side. Because the first time that you go to say these lines out loud, it’s kind of like your version of what you think it can be. And then it’s up to the creative team to be like, “Yeah, we like that,” or “No, it’s completely off.” And it’s really humbling, but also really cool to just be like, it’s not personal. We’re all collaborating. And yeah, I think that that’s something that definitely has been helping me for the on-camera side of things as well.

Paste: Would you say there was anything that drew you to this specific role? Do you have a history with Supergirl as a character or anything like that?

Madeira: Honestly, I don’t have a history with Supergirl, specifically. I mean, I watched Smallville growing up. But even in the audition lines that I got, I really liked the way that this version of Supergirl was written because there’s a level of human-ness, even though she’s an alien. And this, like, teenage angst that I think is really relatable and kind of funny. Because she has these young woman problems, but on top of being superhuman and being an alien, and, you know, being trained to take over Earth. And so there were a lot of human aspects to her that I just kind of could sense coming off the page. And I thought it was really cool that I was able to bring my own voice to it, I didn’t really have to change my voice too much. My idea of voice acting before was like having to do all these kinds of characters, which is obviously such a talent, and I’m working towards that, too. But when I watched the show, I’m like, “Wow, you can really hear that. That’s me.” That’s really cool.

Paste: Something I really enjoyed about the character was all of the fun fish-out-of-water moments in Episode 5. I’m curious if that was as enjoyable to act and write as it was to watch?

Madeira: Yeah, it was very fun. Like the introduction to food, the ice cream, the hot dog. I remember we had so much fun with the hot dog line. Like, “What is a hot dog?” and variations of that. Yeah, it was really fun to play with that.

Wyatt: Those episodes are both great, and our writers, Josie Campbell wrote 5, and M. Willis wrote 6, did amazing stuff with the humor. And then yeah, some of those, like the hot dog joke was like, that’s the room, that was workshopped. But, then, a lot of them had these great individual moments. I think my favorite, maybe my favorite moment in the whole season, is Kara and Clark on the ship, fighting over Jimmy’s photo. It really does feel like screwing with your cousins in a way that I find so real and so charming. And you leave that loving both of them, and it is amazing.

And I think a testament to both the writers and our whole room and Kiana’s performance that, like, you can walk this knife’s edge of she’s beaten up Superman and kidnapped him into space, but you’re like, “Oh, but she’s so adorable. Like she’s really the best, look at how she’s embarrassed about her crush. She doesn’t even understand what a crush is,” and both Kiana, the animators, the designers, the writers, everybody’s ability to walk that line. And like Kiana said, she has these young woman problems, and there are these very recognizable moments to anyone who has a sister, a friend who’s a girl, a cousin. And the balance between that and like, being a war criminal on a scale that this Earth has never known. And it’s fun to see those getting balanced. Everybody did an amazing job, those are two of my favorite episodes to watch as a fan of the show. And yeah, I love what everybody did. I’m so grateful.

Paste: Another thing I really liked about Episode 5 is the Jimmy and Kara relationship, which is not something I would have expected going into the season. Was that something that developed naturally as you thought about both these characters, or how did that come to be?

Wyatt: Okay, so that a little bit developed naturally, because Jimmy has the highest emotional IQ of anyone in the group. That’s like kind of our consistent joke is that Jimmy seems really silly, but he’s right about everything and he’s paying attention in a way that Clark and Lois are not always. So, Jimmy is the first to know that Clark is Superman, Jimmy is the first to know when Clark and Lois are having a problem, Jimmy is the first to be like, “We should talk.” So he’s really charming. He’s really cute. And he’s got this high emotional intelligence. So, of course, she’s immediately, like, into him.

And then the reason why we dressed her as Android 18, it’s actually a Jimmy joke. He’s Krillin. Right, if Superman is Goku, then Jimmy is Krillin. He’s the earthling who understands the aliens and is there to interlocute and help him move through the world. And Android 18 ends up with Krillin.

Yeah, we also enjoy a romantic will-they-won’t-they, it’s like kind of core to the show. So once Clark and Lois are—well, they were a settled matter, now they’re broken up and space-kidnapped. But you need somebody else, you need a new Ross and Rachel. So we got him.

Paste: Actually, on Clark and Lois, something that I think is interesting is that a lot of romance stories stay in the will-they-won’t-they phase until the very end, like in romance movies, they get together, and then the film is over. But in the show, since Clark and Lois are already together, how do you think about balancing having the relationship be enjoyable to watch but then also having the kind of frictions that you need for a story to work?

Wyatt: So to do that, to get away with that, I think you kind of have to transition from a like Friends or New Girls sitcom to something like Home Improvement. You’ve got Home Improvement, where now we have this Mom and Dad couple around which the show orbits, and so they have friction, and they have problems, and they have fights with each other. But it’s not like the stakes are the relationship. The stakes are—they’re episode stakes. And I think eventually you have to make that transition.

We decided to tie down Clark and Lois really fast because they are one of American pop culture’s great romances. It’s fun to mess with that to a degree, but, well, the metaphor I use in the writer’s room is there are two kinds of relationship drama. If your friend is always breaking up with her boyfriend, that’s kind of fun to watch. Like, that’s funny. You’re like, oh my gosh, she’s so dramatic. If your mom is always like threatening to divorce your dad, that’s less fun. So, Clark and Lois are your mom and dad, right? Like that’s who they are to America. We want them to be stable, and we want them to be okay.

So you can mess with that a little bit, but you don’t want to fully Ross and Rachel that relationship because it stops being fun. You’re like, “Why are Mom and Dad not together?” It doesn’t feel good. So, I think the Kara and Jimmy stakes are lower, like I think that’s easier to Ross and Rachel around. But Mom and Dad need to kind of get together and stay together or you start to make people unhappy. It doesn’t feel good, and it’s not the fun kind of tension. You only want to mess with that when you really have to, when it’s important to the story.

Paste: So, getting to the big reveal at the end of Episode 6, we find out that Kara has seemingly been manipulated into killing a very large number of people. Jake, I’m curious what motivated that character choice?

Wyatt: So we knew that she had to be, on some level, a world-destroying monster, right? Like, she’s got to be the big bad of the season. And we knew that she also needed to be redeemable. Like, she’s still Supergirl, right? So we didn’t want to make Supergirl an out-and-out monster, but we did need to have Supergirl participating in this very monstrous project. And so there was a lot of [questioning] how to do it. And the idea that she was sort of sold on this conception of “We’ll bring order to the universe; we’ll bring the light of Krypton to these planets,” but was not all the way up on how that was working. And then once she finds that out, she has agency, right, she has a choice.

So we can give her a pass, I think she deserves our sympathy for what has happened previously. She’s been manipulated, she’s been lied to. She’s done these terrible things. And then, once she finds out what the new Kryptonian Empire really is, then it’s up for her to decide who she’s going to be, which is always the central question of the show, right? It’s Clark’s question, Lois’ question, Jimmy’s question, and Kara’s question. Who am I, and who do I choose to be? So, she’s got this idea of who she is, she finds out it’s false. And we really went to lengths to show, and I think M. and Kiana both did great jobs with this, is showing that Kara believes in the project. She believes that she’s doing the right thing and that it is good for the world. She’s excited to show Clark these places that she’s been to that she loves.

And so we wanted the audience to kind of go through her heartbreak with her when she realized that she has not been serving these worlds, she has not been helping these people. And that hopefully gives us some space as an audience in our hearts to be like, “Okay, well, obviously, this is worse for Thanagar than for Kara, but it’s pretty bad for Kara.” So, how does she react? And we hope she makes the right choice.

Paste: Kiana, I’d really like to know what your reaction was when you got the script for the first time and saw that that’s where her story was headed.

Madeira: Yeah, I thought it was heartbreaking reading the script. And also watching, it’s like you said, Jake, going from the excitement of like, showing Clark these things and Thanagar, her favorite place, and genuinely just so much joy to then “Oh, they’re destroyed” was one version of like, sadness and a heartbreak. But then, at the very end, realizing, “Oh, it was me that did it.” Like, that’s just so sad for her. So, I mean, when I read it, I was like, “Oh my gosh, what are we gonna go from here?” Because now that’s a big obstacle to be up against you. You know, you don’t have agency over your mind, necessarily. So I was just really excited to see what would come next. And I’m excited for everyone to see what comes next.

Wyatt: Yeah, I’m also really excited. Everybody continues to do a great job to the end of the season, and I’m really excited about it.

Paste: Related to that, were either of you worried that this reveal could potentially alienate the audience from Kara’s character to some extent? Especially considering how, in a lot of portrayals, she’s very much a parallel to Clark’s innocence. Or were you confident that this would lead to some really interesting drama with the character?

Wyatt: Kiana, do you want to go first? I have to think about this.

Madeira: Okay, yeah. I was gonna say I don’t think we were too concerned. I wasn’t too concerned about it. Just because the core of the show has so much to do with heart and family and having this conflict of desires and where does your loyalty lie? So I think with Kara and what she was was up against, I didn’t think it would alienate her. I think, if anything, it would make her fit more into the world in her own specific way. And, yeah, I think Clark, finding out that he has family, that he has a cousin, his heart was open immediately to that. So I just had a feeling that it wouldn’t be the worst. Yeah, I always thought the audience would feel for her and have a sort of understanding and compassion because her heart is in the right place.

Wyatt: So we started thinking about this moment so far before it made contact with an audience. And I remember, I can’t remember who brought them in, it might have been Josie, we were reading about these experiments that were done by Dr. Harry Harlow on juvenile monkeys, where he would give them artificial mothers that would feed them. There would be a mother that was made of cloth and a mother that was made of wire, it was like hard and unyielding and uncomforting. Because we saw Kara as having been raised in this kind of experiment, she’s raised by wire mom, she’s raised by Brainiac, who does not show love.

But every child, I’m sorry, this is going to be kind of emotional—I cry, I cry sometimes—every child needs to believe that they are loved and needs to believe that their parents love them, even when they very evidently don’t. And so we were trying to approach Kara from that place, like she’s only ever had this one family and she knows basically one guy, right? And has been trying to do what she thinks is right her whole life. So, we approached it from a place of sympathy. And honestly, it didn’t really occur to me until it was almost out the door that like, “Oh man, I hope everybody else is generous to Kara,” because we’re like, “Our poor baby girl.” Like we love her so much. And she’s had such a hard life. And she’s she’s been with wire mom.

And so, for me, the question was always like, how is she going to find her courage, how is she going to find a way to break out of this? And that’s what the back half of the [season] for me is about. So yeah, we were thinking so much about her, and how to make this real and what this would actually look like and do to a person internally. And we present a softened version of that, we didn’t go as dark as you could with wire mom because this is still a show for all ages. Yeah, we were pretty in Kara’s space, and so we were very much on her side. And I was really happy to see that everybody got on her side and Episode 5, and I hope that they continue going on her journey with her.

Um, there have been some weird moments of judgment in the previous season and like everybody got mad at Lois during Season 1 for breaking up with Clark when he lied to her. And they were like, “How dare Lois try to force him…” and it was like, “He lied to her for a whole season of television, like come on, man.” Like, I know, we love him, and he’s Superman, but like, #LoisLaneDidNothingWrong. Yeah, I don’t think we’re gonna see that with Kara. People can always surprise you, though. But we started on her side, and I don’t think we even considered whether people would hate her until like late in the game.

Paste: So, there’s one last question I’d like to slip in: what’s a specific thing you contributed to the show that you’re really proud of? It could be something super small, something big, but anything you personally really liked that ended up in the series. So for you, Kiana, it could be something that you put into Kara that you liked, and for you, Jake, something you wrote that you thought came out really well.

Madeira: I would say for me. I’m really glad that I added such a vulnerability to her and that it actually came across because she’s such a complex character and one that could easily just be villainized and like, left at that. I’m really happy with my contribution of her vulnerability.

Wyatt: So, Episode 6 required a lot of coordination between our art, story, and writing teams. We had a big vision, with big visuals, but no extra cash—and I think my biggest contribution was making sure, in script and storyboard, that our artists could deliver maximum impact with a reasonable workload. I had the design team lead the conversation on locations like Thanagar or how to handle the big gladiator fight on Kandor, and we found solutions that saved work without compromising quality. I’m proud of how this episode looks and feels, proud of the work our team did, and proudest that we did it without grinding anyone into dust.

My Adventures with Superman airs Saturdays on Adult Swim, streaming next day on Max. 

Elijah Gonzalez is an assistant Games and TV Editor for Paste Magazine. In addition to playing and watching the latest on the small screen, he also loves film, creating large lists of media he’ll probably never actually get to, and dreaming of the day he finally gets through all the Like a Dragon games. You can follow him on Twitter @eli_gonzalez11.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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