If you have even a casual interest in Wonder Woman, you’ve heard of her animalistic adversary, the Cheetah. After menacing the Amazon hero for decades, the villain will be portrayed by Kristen Wiig in the upcoming Wonder Woman 1984 and has a solid claim to being her greatest adversary. Since Wonder Woman is most often associated with Greek Myth, being an Amazon who fights Gods, this might seem odd, but the villain’s backstory has deep ties to Wonder Woman lore.
While multiple women have donned the title of the Cheetah, all of whom have made Diana of Themyscira’s life a verifiable nightmare. Now, CBR is breaking down everything you need to know about the Cheetah before her live-action cinematic debut.
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THE ORIGINAL CHEETAH
Like many long-lasting DC villains, the Cheetah’s origins have shifted over the years. New writers and retroactive changes to stories have altered or reimagined the character. Most fans are familiar with her modern, Post-Crisis interpretation.
But before that, the original Cheetah was Priscilla Rich. Created by Wonder Woman creators William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter, this aristicratic young woman feels insecure and cast out once Wonder Woman appears at an event and overshadows her. This triggers her split personality, which drives her to commit crimes in a cheetah outfit. Unlike the modern Cheetah, Rich’s Cheetah was just an ordinary woman with a split personality and animal-themed costume.
Eventually, Wonder Woman manages to bring Rich’s human personality out, and Rich, now horrified with her actions, vows to remain on Paradise Island until she can suppress her evil personality for good. This, sadly, doesn’t work. Her personality takes over, she joins a few villain teams before dying unceremoniously in her home. But she is discovered by her niece.
THE SECOND CHEETAH
Rich’s niece, Deborah Domaine, was a wealthy aristocrat who is already Diana of Themyscira’s friend. A good hearted girl, her life is ruined when the villain Kobra, an ally of Rich’s, kidnaps and brainwashes Domaine. Through torture and horror, Domaine dons the costume, becoming the new Cheetah. She has several run-ins with Wonder Woman, but Diana never manages to defeat her for good.
The tragedy here is that, again, both Cheetahs had very little desire to be evil. They were just brainwashed or controlled. None of them had that same morbid, disturbing desire to inflict harm. They were just bad-guys who were hardly worthy of being called “Wonder Woman’s nemesis.” This is probably why Rich was murdered early on in Post-Crisis by the current Cheetah, and why Domaine barely made any appearance in Post-Crisis DC.
Barbara Ann Minerva
Created by George Perez and Len Wein in 1980’s Wonder Woman #7, Barbara Ann Minerva is an incredibly rich and arrogant woman with a fascination with archaeology. She discovers an ancient gem containing the powers of the cheetah, which she consumes in order to be the cheetah’s champion. However, the powers were supposed to be conferred onto a virgin, which Minerva is not. Therefore, the powers transformed her into something nightmarish: a human cheetah hybrid.
When activating her incredible totemic powers, she gains the likeness of a cheetah, but at times she can assume a regular humanoid form. However, when human, she suffers chronic pain. As the Cheetah, she develops a genuine thirst for blood and flesh.
Initially, Minerva attacked Wonder Woman because she wanted the Lasso of Truth to add to her collection of archaeological finds. Upon being beaten, however, the Cheetah simply wanted to hurt Diana out of sheer pettiness.
THE CHEETAH IN THE NEW 52 and DC REBIRTH
Minerva survived both reboots of DC’s continuity, though her origins were slightly changed. The core tenants, however, remain the same since Minerva’s introduction.
In the New 52, Minerva starts as Wonder Woman’s accomplice and a master of rare artifacts. After cutting herself on an Amazonian Dagger belonging to Artemis, Minerva becomes host to the Goddess of the Hunt, taking the form of the Cheetah. Imbued with godlike power, she pursues her own selfish ends as the Cheetah.
In the DC Rebirth, Minerva is revealed to be a companion of Wonder Woman’s who marries an ancient God, thus becoming a cannibalistic cheetah woman. Blaming Wonder Woman for the horrific transformation, she vows vengeance upon her. Every prior Cheetah identity, it is revealed, was just an alias she took for herself while committing crimes. However, it turns out that all of these events were manipulated by Ares. He hoped the Cheetah would lead him to Themyscira, which she managed to do. Now, Cheetah is set to be a major player in Lex Luthor’s new Legion of Doom as part of DC’s Year of the Villain storyline.