Earlier, I looked at Max Lord, one of the villains in the upcoming Wonder Woman 1984. Today, I’ll breakdown the second villain, The Cheetah. Unlike Lord, The Cheetah has always exclusively been a Wonder Woman enemy, but there have been multiple people that worked under that name. In 1985, DC Comics launched Crisis on Infinite Earths, a company-wide event that rebooted the entire timeline and compressed many parallel Earths into one. Before this, there had been two Cheetahs, neither of whom had superpowers and were mainly knock-offs of Batman’s villain Catwoman. With Crisis, these versions were erased to make way for writer-artist George Perez’s overhaul of Wonder Woman and her continuity. This led to a new Cheetah, one who derived her powers from dark mythic gods.
Dr. Barbara Ann Minerva was introduced in the pages of Wonder Woman #7 (Aug 1987). Minerva is a British archaeologist who has used her family fortune to amass a collection of artifacts. She’s also mentally unstable, which is what leads her down a troubled path. She becomes aware of an African tribe protected through history by a female guardian harnessing the spirit of the Cheetah. Minerva briefly meets this guardian, but she is killed by marauders. The tribe’s high priest, Chuma, performs a ritual that infuses Minerva with the spirit and transforms her into the Cheetah. Part of the conditions of accepting this power is that the woman who is possessed must be a virgin, and Minerva is not. Therefore, she experiences severe pain while not in the form of the Cheetah and develops a craving for blood to keep transforming.
Dr. Minerva is operating as the Cheetah before Wonder Woman’s debut and becomes covetous of the Lasso of Truth, an artifact she has been aware of for years. She fails to trick Wonder Woman out of the lasso and resents the hero’s superiority to her. Minerva has a tempestuous relationship with Wonder Woman over the next few years. There are moments where she is outright homicidal towards the Amazon, but then Wonder Woman rescues her from the clutches of an occultist. Some seeds are planted that Wonder Woman wants to help Minerva, but the archaeologist still holds onto her resentments.
There’s a period when businessman Sebastian Ballesteros steals Minerva’s power and becomes a male version of The Cheetah, but she regains her powers. The relationship between Minerva and Urzkargata, the god that provides her with ability, and she is physically tortured and disfigured. Eventually, Priscilla Rich, one of the former Cheetahs is reintroduced into continuity as a woman who also went by the Cheetah alias. Minerva murders Rich to solidify her hold on the identity. She ends up in a relationship with Zoom, the Flash villain, but that is a volatile union. For the remainder of the pre-New 52 years, Cheetah was sort of all over the place as a background character and occasional thorn in Wonder Woman’s side.
With the New 52 reboot, Minerva’s whole backstory was overhauled. Now she was an expert in dangerous relics who had grown up in an all-female commune called “Amazonia.” She got her hands on an Amazonian dagger, and when she cut herself with, it was infused with the Goddess of the Hunt. She took the form of a were-cheetah and was so powerful her scratch could even transform Superman into a creature like herself. During the Forever Evil event, The Cheetah steals the weapons of Wonder Woman and is confronted by Steve Trevor and Killer Frost. During this storyline, her powers are narratively merged with the mythical witch Circe, showing the Cheetah capable of transforming humans into hybrids with animals.
DC Rebirth gave the writer Greg Rucka and artist Nicola Scott a chance to rework Barbara Ann Minerva’s story. This time around, she was an American who grew up in love with mythology despite her domineering father’s open disgust. Minerva pursues the study of archaeology and gets her Ph.D., which leads her to a dig site in Ukraine. Here she finds evidence that the Amazons of myth were real. Awhile later, Wonder Woman debuts after Steve Trevor stumbles across Themyscria and brings the Amazonian princess to “man’s world.” Minerva, because of her expertise in ancient and extinct languages, is brought in by the Navy to help translate Wonder Woman, who doesn’t speak English.
Minerva is responsible for teaching the Amazon English and starts off as an ally. Ares manifests in an attempt to stop Wonder Woman, and this close encounter with a real deity leads Minerva to seek out contact with more of them. Through her research, she learns about Urzkargata in Africa and gets funding from Veronica Cale, another Wonder Woman villain, to go on an expedition. Cale pushes Minerva into bonding with the god and becoming the Cheetah, believing that having this conduit to the divine will help her locate Themyscria so Cale can attack and exploit its resources. As the Cheetah, Minerva experiences cannibalistic urges and becomes an eater of human flesh, holding Wonder Woman to blame for what has happened to her. Minerva becomes a part of Cale’s Godwatch collective.
Years later, Wonder Woman hunts down her old friend who is living in the jungles of Africa. A cult of Urzkargata who protects the Cheetah attack Wonder Woman but eventually she reaches her. A mercenary shows up who believes that the Cheetah’s power belongs to a male and abducts Minerva to perform a ceremony that will transfer the power to himself. During this confrontation, Minerva learned the role of the Cheetah is not to serve Urzkargata but to keep him imprisoned for all eternity. Wonder Woman helps Minvera permanently regain her human form and bring an end to the curse.
Veronica Cale was furious about being betrayed and uses her Godwatch to abduct Steve Trevor and Etta Candy, both of whom had become friends to Minerva. Cale threatens to kill them if Minerva doesn’t submit and allow herself to transform back into the Cheetah. Cale forces the Cheetah to attack Wonder Woman spilling the hero’s blood to open a gateway to enable Ares to enter the material plane. At this point, Minerva’s mind had suffered a significant break, and she fully embraces the savagery of the Cheetah persona. She vows to destroy Diana and the Amazon. Most recently, Minerva has shown up as Lex Luthor’s Legion of Doom as they go about trying to destroy the multiverse and recreate it as a shadow of its former self.
I suspect the Cheetah we get in Wonder Woman 1984 will be a blend of lots of these elements. Max Lord may possibly be cast in the Veronica Cale role, financing Minerva’s doomed expedition. I think Wonder Woman will likely be sympathetic to Minerva trying to regain control of her mind and body. I think Cheetah will have her parallels to Wonder Woman emphasized, with the villain being the champion of her god’s power while Diana represents the Greek pantheon. It should be interesting to see how Minerva’s story is told and how actress Kristen Wiig chooses to play her.