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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

While we're on the subject of geeks and dorks, a bomb dropped in their world last week. Warner Bros. has confirmed that the next installment of its "Man of Steel" movie franchise will star actress Gal Gadot as the comic's most famous woman, Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman.

In the era of Dark Knight ad nauseam, where every Avenger gets his own spin-off, Wonder Woman comes to the big screen for the first time, after decades of turmoil and more than one disastrous reinvention.

For more, we're joined by NPR contributor Glen Weldon. And, Glen, give us Wonder Woman's back story, because I know she's got roots in World War II, right?

GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: Absolutely. Unlike Superman and Batman, who preceded her by a bit, Wonder Woman was created in and for World War II. That was her whole shtick, was fighting the Nazis. And she was created to be something of a contradiction, which is one of the reasons it's been so tough to bring her to the screen. She is a warrior for peace. That's tough.

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: That's a tough thing unless you're in a World War II, situation where you have an ambiguously evil Nazi enemy. Elsewhere in the world, when she's been trying to introduce them to other scenarios, it's a rougher fit. So it's tough to write stories about.

CORNISH: So perhaps that's why she hit a crossroads in 1968, right? They tried to reinvent the characters in the comics and it was pretty unpopular, even drew criticism from none other than Gloria Steinem. What happened?

WELDON: Well, Gloria Steinem, in the very first issue of Ms. magazine, had a Wonder Woman for president campaign, and it was Wonder Woman in the actual old star-spangled panties and the eagle on the bust. And they decided at DC to take away her powers and make her a woman of the world and just have her be - have the strength of a normal woman.

It was a nod toward women's lib, it was a nod toward equality to sexes. And theoretically, it works. But in execution, it was just silly. And Gloria Steinem came to them and said, look, you've taken away the symbol. The symbol is that she's strong. And by making her like everybody else, you're taking away her power.

CORNISH: Now, this isn't really the first time, right, that they've tried to bring this character off the page. There's obviously the television show. I think there's a cartoon. But in this latest iteration, she's actually not the star of her own film. She's going to be in the background to Batman and Superman. What do we make of this?

WELDON: Well, I mean, the iconic Wonder Woman is, of course, Lynda Carter, as you mentioned before. And that was perfectly successful. That was hugely successful for its time. They have darkened the whole superhero universe now to make it kind of fit the Dark Knight. So when Zack Snyder made "Man of Steel," he made it very grim and gritty. And so putting a character like Wonder Woman into this milieu might or may not work.

CORNISH: But that being said, we've got a weapon-wielding heroine right now - in the "Hunger Games," Katniss Everdeen - that's pretty bleak. There's also the Black Widow in the "Avengers" series. Do we even need Wonder Woman then?

WELDON: Well, I don't know. I mean, we can't really say anything. I came on this show when we announced the Ben Affleck casting to whinge about it. But I'm not going to say anything about this particular casting yet because we don't know how they're going to use her or what they're going to do with her or even what the story is.

I - there was a really interesting piece on the Atlantic about, you know, Wonder Woman isn't a sidekick, and you're putting here into this story to kind of play second fiddle. But there is no reason in the world to think that this isn't the first step with Wonder Woman and not the only one because we have seen - the notion that a female lead character can't open a blockbuster was always false. It's been proven demonstrably false by "The Hunger Games," by "The Heat," by other things like that.

So now, Warner Bros. has been angling to get a Wonder Woman film into the theaters for so long, I got to imagine that this introduction of Wonder Woman into this film is a stopgap. It's what we used to call on television a backdoor pilot, where we introduce the character in one place so that we can devote an entire film to her after. I don't see any reason to think that this is just a one-off with Wonder Woman. I think, if they're smart, they're going to keep this played out for a while.

CORNISH: So there's not high stakes here. Some people are saying that if they mess up this Wonder Woman, we won't get another chance. There won't be another woman hero.

WELDON: Audie, we always get another chance. They're superheroes, they keep coming back. They keep getting iterated and reiterated ad infinitum, some say ad nauseam.

CORNISH: That's Glen Weldon. He's the author of "The Unauthorized Biography of Superman." Thanks so much for talking with us.

WELDON: My pleasure.

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