As much as I loved the first Wonder Woman film, it suffered from the problem that so many superhero stories and video games suffer from: a disappointing end boss. The film was filled with these amazing moments like the beach fight and No Man’s Land, and then Ares was just a guy with a mustache who could swing around big pieces of metal. I’ve watched Wonder Woman a half dozen times. I still love it, but I still dread that last battle. When I look at the much-delayed Wonder Woman 1984, I have to admit that Cheetah, one of Diana Prince’s oldest foes, seems like a better match for her than the literal God of War.
Cheetah first entered the scene just two years after her arch-nemesis, premiering in Wonder Woman #6 in 1943. She’s been around for 77 years to Wonder Woman’s 79, and that she’s still alive and kicking should tell you how good of a match the two are.
During that time, Cheetah has had a few identities. Priscilla Rich came first. Introduced by Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston, this Cheetah was a wealthy young woman with a split personality who dons a cheetah costume to commit crimes. Next came Deborah Domaine, Priscilla’s niece. Deborah was tortured and brainwashed into being Cheetah, and was later retconned out of DC history.
The True Cheetah: Barbara Ann Minerva
While Priscilla was the original Cheetah, Barbara Ann Minerva is the one most Wonder Woman and DC fans are familiar with, and also the version Kristin Wiig portrays in Wonder Woman 1984. In the comics, Minerva is an archaeologist along with being the heiress to a huge fortune (enough with the rich superheroes and supervillains, comic publishers!).
The original incarnation of Minerva is hugely problematic. She obtains her Cheetah powers when she’s studying an African tribe. The tribe’s Cheetah guardian dies, and the tribe gives Minerva the powers of an African plant god, Uzkartaga. She has to consume human blood to transform into Cheetah. But also, Cheetah is supposed to be a virgin (which Minerva is not), so Minerva experiences chronic pain in her human form and bloodthirst in her cheetah form. So we get colonialism, ableism, and misogyny all knotted together, which is fun.
This version of Cheetah initially only cares about Wonder Woman’s lasso; the archaeologist wants the ancient artifact for herself. She wields it a few times over the years, but never for long or very effectively, often falling victim to its inherent truth-telling powers. Eventually, though, Minerva loses interest in the lasso and is just mad that Wonder Woman has beaten her so many times. She adopts the standard “I, a criminal, am bullied by superheroes who will not leave me to do crimes in peace” stance that so many villains eventually fall into.
Cheetah Levels Up
She levels up in two crucial ways. First, she trains with Flash villain Zoom, who teaches her how to harness her super speed to become even faster than she already is and, more importantly, faster than Wonder Woman. She and Zoom even engage in a relationship for some time. Second, the witch Circe helps Minerva with her powers, allowing her to stay Cheetah at all times but to decide whether she appears as Minerva or Cheetah.
During this incarnation, the first and only male Cheetah, Sebastian Ballesteros, briefly replaces Minerva. Like Deborah Domaine, he was retconned out of existence.
DC’s Rebirth storyline rebooted Cheetah (and, you know, every other DC character), turning her into a one-time ally of Wonder Woman’s. The two meet for the first time when Minerva is brought in to translate Diana’s language. Minerva becomes increasingly obsessed with godhood and once again seeks out the same god. In this incarnation, the Greek gods play a much bigger role. As Minerva seeks out Uzkartaga once again, she’s now being manipulated by Ares’ sons, Deimos and Phobos in hopes she’ll be able to locate Themyscira for them. Ironically, Diana herself eventually asks for Minerva’s help re-locating her home. In return, Diana will kill Uzkartaga and end Minerva’s curse. Minerva ends up cured, and Uzkartaga is reduced to a harmless plant by Diana’s lasso. Frequent Wonder Woman antagonist Veronica Cale recovers the plant, though, and forces Minerva to become Cheetah once again to serve her own ends.
Outside of the pages of comics, Cheetah has appeared in just about every animated movie or show that prominently features Wonder Woman. Surprisingly, though, Cheetah has never appeared in live-action. That includes Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman television show–despite how incredibly 70s it sounds to imagine a woman dressed in a Cheetah suit.
In Wonder Woman 1984, Wiig’s take on Minerva will be that of an archaeologist who at first becomes friends with Diana but is eventually at odds with her and teams up with Maxwell Lord, the film’s other antagonist (portrayed by The Mandalorian‘s Pedro Pascal). We don’t know much about her yet, and we’re unsure right now of when we’ll find out. Wonder Woman 1984 is still set to come out on December 25, 2020, but we’re expecting a delay.