Who is The Cheetah – the long-time Wonder Woman enemy primed to be the chief villain of the upcoming Wonder Woman 1984? Despite being Wonder Woman’s most famous enemy from the comics in popular culture, the origins of this classic character are considerably less well-known than those of many Batman or Superman foes. This may be due to three women fighting Diana of Themyscira using the Cheetah name and her backstory and powers being changed several times over the years.
The first Cheetah was a wealthy socialite named Priscilla Rich, who had no superpowers and was urged by her evil split personality to commit crimes in a cheetah-skin suit. Her niece, Deborah Domaine, became the second Cheetah after she was brainwashed into assuming her aunt’s identity by the terrorist organization Kobra. Both of these versions of Cheetah (who were basically Catwoman in a different costume) were retired following Crisis on Infinite Earths in favor of a new Cheetah who could more evenly stand against the divinely-empowered Diana of Themyscira.
Related: Everything We Know About Wonder Woman 1984
With Wonder Woman 1984 set to be one of the biggest releases of the summer movie season of 2020 and comedian Kristin Wiig cast as Cheetah, it’s time to take a deeper look at Dr. Barbara Ann Minerva and how can she possibly be a match for Wonder Woman.
- This Page: Cheetah’s Origin & Powers
- Page 2: Kristen Wiig Cheetah In Wonder Woman 1984
Cheetah’s Origin In Wonder Woman Comics
The current incarnation of Cheetah in the Wonder Woman comics is a woman named Dr. Barbara Ann Minerva. Like Lara Croft from Tomb Raider, Dr. Minerva was a British archaeologist and heir to a vast fortune, with an affinity for seeking out artifacts that others said were purely legendary. Unlike the more famous Ms. Croft, Dr. Minerva did not have a good relationship with her father and she had no ethical limits as to what she would do to acquire the fortune and glory she longed for.
This greed drove Dr. Minerva to lead an expedition to Africa in search of a lost tribe, who was said to have a mystic female guardian who possessed the powers of the cheetah spirit. This guardian was later revealed to be the bride of Urzkartaga, an ancient plant god. While Dr. Minerva successfully found the tribe and confirmed the legends of the guardian’s existence, her expedition had been followed by bandits seeking plunder, who began killing both the tribe and Dr. Minerva’s crew.
Desperate to do anything that might save her life, Dr. Minerva agreed to undergo the ritual to become the new guardian after the tribe’s high priest told her that she would have immortality as Urzkartaga’s bride. Unfortunately, Urzkartaga was a jealous god and refused to accept any woman who had known the touch of another man as a bride. This left Dr. Minerva cursed, possessing a totemic bond to the power of the cheetah as well as an incurable blood-lust when she was in her bestial form and crippling physical pain when she appeared human. Her rivalry with Wonder Woman was born after she first encountered Diana of Themyscira and began to covet the magical Lasso of Truth that she possessed.
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This background was changed slightly in the 2016 Wonder Woman: Year One storyline by longtime Wonder Woman writer Greg Rucka. Here, Dr. Minerva was presented as a more sympathetic figure – a talented archaeologist determined to prove the existence of the Amazons, who was hired by the American government to act as Diana’s translator and tutor when she first came to Man’s World. The two women became good friends, with Dr. Minerva teaching Diana about the modern world and modern languages while learning all she could from Diana about her people and their culture.
Unfortunately, their friendship would fall apart after Dr. Minerva began seeking out evidence of other demigods like Diana in the hopes of finding a cure for the ailment that required her to walk with a cane. Financed by the sinister CEO Veronica Cale, Dr. Minerva was set up to become the Cheetah as part of one of Cale’s own evil schemes. When Dr. Minerva discovered her intended fate, she tried to signal Diana for help using a special signaling device she had been given by Wonder Woman, which had been deactivated by Cale’s allies. This caused Dr. Minerva to hate Diana, whom she blamed for abandoning her and bringing about her transformation into the cannibalistic Cheetah.
Cheetah’s Powers In Wonder Woman Comics
Dr. Minerva’s bond to the cheetah spirit through Urzkartaga enhanced her body in several respects. As her name suggests, her chief asset in her beast-form is the proportionate speed, dexterity and agility of the fastest land animal on Earth. While Dr. Minerva’s top speed in the comics has varied wildly, she is easily one of the fastest people on Earth who does not possess a connection to The Flash’s Speed Force. She also possesses a certain degree of super-strength, super-endurance and invulnerability, making her capable of going toe-to-toe with Wonder Woman in a one-on-one fight.
The connection to the cheetah spirit also gives Dr. Minerva a number of passive powers. She possesses the enhanced senses of a large cat, including perfect night vision, sharp hearing and a sense of smell that lets her track her prey by scent as well as supernaturally sharp claws and fangs capable of cutting even Superman’s invulnerable skin. She also briefly had the ability to grant a measure of her power to those she bit, transforming them into half-cheetah hybrids under her control.
Page 2 of 2: Kristen Wiig Cheetah In Wonder Woman 1984
Kristen Wiig Plays Cheetah In Wonder Woman 1984
Many fans were skeptical when it was announced that Kristen Wiig had been cast in the role of Dr. Barbara Ann Minerva, beating out rumored actresses with more experience in action roles like Sarah Paulson and Charlize Theron. Certainly, Wiig, best known for her work on Saturday Night Live and the movie Bridesmaids, is seen as more of a comedian than a serious actress. Yet she has also won critical acclaim and award nominations for her work in more dramatic works such as The Skeleton Twins and Welcome To Me.
Related: Wonder Woman 2: Why Kristen Wiig is Perfect For Cheetah
Keeping the modern interpretation of Dr. Minerva in mind explains precisely why Wiig is a perfect choice for the role. Before becoming the Cheetah, Minerva is far from a physical powerhouse and indeed requires a cane to walk. Given that bringing Cheetah to life accurately will require some degree of CGI trickery, the actor’s physicality doesn’t matter that much. What is important is that the film will probably explore the friendship between Diana and Dr. Minerva before her tragic transformation, and Wiig certainly has experience playing roles that delve into the strange friendships forged between radically different women.
Cheetah’s Role In Wonder Woman 1984
It is known that Cheetah’s background in Wonder Woman 1984 will borrow from the most recent retelling in Wonder Woman: Year One. However, it seems that something of the more sinister Dr. Minerva from the original post-Crisis comics will be in play as well. One report claims that the movie will start out with Diana and Barbara as friends and that while Dr. Minerva tries to emulate Wonder Woman, she eventually plots to usurp the power and position of her friend by acquiring the Cheetah’s powers.
The first photos of Dr. Minerva in Wonder Woman 1984 show her standing in an exhibit of African artifacts, lending credence to the theory that the origin from the Rebirth Wonder Woman series is being used. This also jibes with director Patty Jenkins’ early comments on how the movie would be a love story. It seems, however, that this love will be the sisterhood between Diana and her fallen friend rather than the romantic love she shared with Steve Trevor in the first movie.
Next: Wonder Woman 1984 Set Photo Could Hint at Cheetah’s Origin