Cheetah Explained: The Basics
As a bridge between the world of men and the Greek gods, Wonder Woman has accumulated many enemies over the years. However, none of her foes have proven quite as deadly or tenacious as Cheetah. Powered by the plant god Urzkartaga (at times) and fueled by her hatred and jealousy of Wonder Woman, Cheetah brings a ferocious strength and savagery to every battle. However, that ferocity has never proven a match for Wonder Woman’s love and compassion. Cheetah sees Wonder Woman as an enemy, but Diana sees her as a fallen friend in need of saving.
Cheetah’s Powers and Abilities
There have been four main incarnations of Cheetah in DC’s comics. The first two, Priscilla Rich and her niece, Deborah Domaine, have no superhuman abilities to speak of. They merely wear cheetah-styled costumes and rely on a combination of fighting skills and general meanness to go toe-to-toe with Wonder Woman.The modern incarnations of Cheetah, Barbara Ann Minerva and Sebastian Ballesteros, were both granted supernatural abilities by Urzkartaga. Both villains were transformed into half-human, half-cheetah hybrids and were granted increased strength, speed, durability and senses, as well as razor-sharp claws capable of cutting even Wonder Woman’s flesh.
Cheetah: Origin and Background
Cheetah is one of Wonder Woman’s oldest recurring villains, debuting in 1943’s Wonder Woman #6. Creators William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter introduced Priscilla Rich as a jealous, self-centered debutante who became a villain as a result of her split personality. Even early on, Cheetah showed an unusual depth compared to villains of the time, making a concerted effort to control her darker side even as she regularly clashed with Wonder Woman.
The Deborah Domaine Cheetah was introduced in 1980’s Wonder Woman #274. The niece of Rich, Domaine was brainwashed by the terrorist organization Kobra to take up her aunt’s mantle and battle Wonder Woman despite their friendship.
Following the events of 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC drastically revamped the Wonder Woman franchise and Cheetah’s role therein. Len Wein and George Perez introduced the Barbara Ann Minerva version in 1987’s Wonder Woman #7, making her the first Cheetah to possess superhuman powers and a connection to the gods. Minerva was depicted as an ambitious archaeologist who ingested a rare chemical brewed by worshipers of Urzkartaga, craving the immortality the chemical would bestow upon her. Unfortunately, the chemical was only intended to be used on virgins, causing Minerva to experience terrible pain in her human form and an insatiable bloodlust in her cheetah form.
Minerva has remained in the role ever since, apart from a brief period where she was replaced by Sebastian Ballesteros in 2001’s Wonder Woman #170; he was the sole man to take on the mantle to date. Minerva’s appearance, motivation and powers have shifted during that time, and she’s sometimes been portrayed as more anti-hero than true villain.
Minerva’s connection to past Cheetahs has also changed with time. Originally, both Priscilla Rich and Deborah Domaine remained a part of DC continuity, with Minerva killing the former to strengthen her claim to the mantle. However, in the wake of DC’s New 52 reboot, Minerva is now depicted as the only Cheetah, and both Rich and Domaine were merely two of her temporary cover identities.
Cheetah: Beyond the Comics
Cheetah’s first appearance outside the comics came in the animated series Challenge of the Super Friends, with the Priscilla Rich version (voiced by Marlene Aragon) serving as a member of the Legion of Doom. The Barbara Ann Minerva version played a recurring role on both Justice League and Justice League Unlimited (voiced by Sheryl Lee Ralph). These shows removed the mystical nature of the character, instead depicting Minerva as a geneticist who inadvertently transformed herself into the Cheetah. Batman: The Brave and the Bold featured its own version of Cheetah (voiced by Morena Baccarin), one which blended elements of the Priscilla Rich and Barbara Ann Minerva characters.
Cheetah has also appeared in a number of DC’s direct-to-DVD animated movies, including Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, Justice League: The New Frontier, Justice League: Doom and 2009’s Wonder Woman, as well as video games like Justice League Task Force, DC Universe Online, LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham and Injustice 2.Cheetah will make her live-action debut in Wonder Woman 1984, played by Kristen Wiig. According to director Patty Jenkins, Wiig will play Barbara Minerva. Cheetah also received a brief nod in an episode of Arrow, with her name appearing on a prison cell in an ARGUS facility, but she has yet to make an actual appearance in the Arrowverse.