Is everybody ready to head out on safari? We’re going to take a look at the Cheetah, one of the most vicious predators in the DC Universe. The Cheetah has sharp claws, a quick temper, a thirst for violence and has been known to give Wonder Woman a hard time. That’s right, the Cheetah is so ferocious, that’s she’s successfully gone toe-to-toe with Themyscira’s mightiest warrior. Who is this vicious predator and how did she get her spots?
For the purposes of this particular expedition, we’re going to be focusing on Dr. Barbara Ann Minerva, who will soon be seen tearing it up with Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman 1984. Minerva wasn’t the first Cheetah to square off against Wonder Woman, but she immediately stood apart from her predecessors. While previous Cheetahs were little more than deranged women in footie pajamas, Minerva is a feral foe powered by a god. This probably comes in handy for her, since one would need to be powered by a god to face off against an Amazon.
While Kristen Wiig will soon introduce Dr. Minerva to the world, DC fans first met her in 1987’s Wonder Woman #7 by George Perez and Len Wein. Minerva was an archaeologist who got wind of Wonder Woman’s recent emergence and had her eye on Diana’s Lasso of Truth. You know how it is with archaeologists and rare artifacts. Just think of Minerva as a greedier version of Indiana Jones, except Harrison Ford never transformed into a vicious cheetah (though there is a new Indy movie on the way, so you never know!).
As the storyline progressed, we gradually learned a bit more about Barbara’s bestial background. Dr. Minerva had been on an African expedition when she found herself thrown into the middle of a conflict between the local tribe and a group of marauders. The tribal priest approached Barbara to be their new protector, and once she found out immortality was part of the package, she jumped at the offer. Using the powers of the plant god Urzkartaga, Dr. Minerva was transformed into the Cheetah. She quickly put her new abilities to use by tearing the marauders apart.
During her early appearances Barbara could only become the Cheetah for short periods of time and needed to undergo a ceremonial ritual each time. Diana was first introduced to Dr. Minerva in Wonder Woman #9. At the time, Barbara was in her human form and her plan to steal the lasso was to ask Diana if she could examine it in the next room. It was a pretty dumb plan, but Diana was still new enough to human society to trust her. Of course, once Barbara held the lasso, she confessed the entire thing to Wonder Woman. Suffice to say, the meeting didn’t go so well after that, so Barbara regrouped to try again.
This set the stage for the very first battle between Wonder Woman and the Cheetah, and it was brutal. The Cheetah cornered Diana that evening and the Amazonian warrior was surprised at the speed and strength of her attacker. Diana’s lasso had no effect on the Cheetah, and Wonder Woman was shocked to discover that the Cheetah was able to make her bleed. In fact, Barbara would’ve killed Wonder Woman had it not been for the intervention of Julia Kapatelis and her shotgun, which wounded Dr. Minerva and sent her fleeing.
That’s right, Wonder Woman can’t even be considered the winner of her first battle against the Cheetah.
After a few rematches, Barbara was given a power upgrade by the sorceress Circe. Now Dr. Minerva was the Cheetah permanently, without the use of Urzkartaga or his mythical herbs. She was now stronger, faster and had more control over her animal instincts, which gave her a tactical advantage.
The Cheetah’s origin was modified when Wonder Woman’s mythos was reimagined for DC Rebirth. In the new version of the legend, Dr. Minerva was one of Diana’s first friends when she arrived from Themyscira. In 2017’s Wonder Woman #18, Barbara was attacked by the plant god Urzkartaga, who made Minerva his bride and transformed her into the Cheetah. Barbara blamed Diana for her not being there to save her and their rivalry was born. In recent comics, Diana has tried to restore Minerva’s humanity and save her friend, but the intervention of other super-villains like Veronica Cale and Urzkartaga have gotten in the way.
Much like Wonder Woman 1984’s other villain, Maxwell Lord, the onscreen version of Barbara Minerva and the Cheetah have some similarities to their comic book counterparts, but some differences as well. Like in the recent comics, Diana and Barbara start off as friends and in this case, colleagues, with both holding prestigious jobs at the Smithsonian. However, there’s no Urzkartaga and Dr. Minerva doesn’t seem to have much interest in Wonder Woman’s lasso. So, how does she become the Cheetah? You’ll soon find out. You didn’t think we were going to spoil it for you, did you?
However, if there’s one lesson you should learn from this safari expedition, it’s that no matter how she obtained her powers and her beastly form, if you see the Cheetah in the wild, run away as fast as you can and hope that Wonder Woman is nearby. This is one cat where too much curiosity can kill you.
Wonder Woman 1984 opens in theaters and on HBO Max on Friday, December 25th. For all the latest news, trailers and features on Diana’s return to the screen, visit our official Wonder Woman 1984 movie page.
For more on Wiig's portrayal of Barbara Minerva, check out our recent article on Wonder Woman 1984's two big bads, Maxwell Lord and the Cheetah.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.