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Wonder Woman: The Missing Superhero

Lynda Carter brought the heroine to network TV, but it's been a decades-long battle to get the sexy superhero to the big screen

Wonder Woman and Superman are suspended above Earth's atmosphere, circling each other like floating prizefighters. The Man of Steel has been hypnotized into believing that Wonder Woman has murdered his beloved Lois Lane. Her pleas of innocence — ''Listen to me! Whatever you're seeing, whatever you think is true... it's all a lie!'' — fall on deaf super-ears. His face filled with rage, Superman lunges, delivering an atom-bomb-like blow, sending Wonder Woman jackknifing into outer space. His parting words: ''Die... Bitch...!''

These have not been the best of times for Wonder Woman. The never-filmed scene described above — from Justice League, a script Kieran and Michele Mulroney wrote for Warner Bros. in 2007 — is about as close as she's come to making a live-action appearance on the big screen, and even that was as part of a superhero ensemble. But like scores of other scripts featuring Wonder Woman, written by scads of other writers over the past decade — including one by pop culture eminence Joss Whedon — Justice League never got off the ground. Warner Bros. put the project on ''hiatus'' in 2008, and once again Wonder Woman was left dangling in that Phantom Zone known as development hell.

At a time when every other comic-book hero in the universe seems to be getting a green light — even Thor, for Hera's sake! — Hollywood still hasn't figured out a way to make a Wonder Woman movie. Last month, there were reports that Ally McBeal creator David E. Kelley was pitching a Wonder Woman show to the networks. She's found a home on TV before, in the campy '70s Wonder Woman series, with Lynda Carter in the title role and a young Debra Winger as Wonder Woman's little sister, Wonder Girl. After the show went off the air, there was some movement to bring her to the screen in the 1980s. Larry Gordon (Die Hard, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) was asked to produce at one point. (''For a few weeks,'' he recalls.) But nothing ever came of it.

''She's a girl,'' says Whedon. ''Hollywood is still twitchy about that.''

Of course, Wonder Woman isn't just any girl. She's one of the most popular and enduring creations in all of comic-book mythology, right up there with Superman and Batman in the pantheon of superherodom. She was created in 1941 by psychologist William Moulton Marston (also the guy who invented the polygraph machine), who based her in part on the female Amazon warriors of Greek mythology — only with an invisible plane and bullet-deflecting bracelets. During World War II, her silhouette adorned American airplanes over Europe and Japan. In the 1960s and 1970s, it adorned lunch boxes. An icon of female empowerment even before modern feminism, she led the charge for equal rights during the early days of the women's movement, appearing on the very first cover of Ms. magazine. (''It was an election year and we wanted to depict the women's vote — we weren't going to put Nixon or McGovern on the cover,'' remembers Joanne Edgar, who wrote the article.) Even today, she remains popular. According to Rubie's, one of the largest costume manufacturers in the U.S., Wonder Woman is among the best-selling female superhero outfits every year. ''As a brand, she's still very respectable,'' says Rubin Beige, the company's vice president of operations. ''She's not as big as Lady Gaga, but she always sells.''

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