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The untold truth of Cheetah

Wonder Woman is one of the most successful DC Comics films — if not the most successful — since the company started building its own cinematic universe to compete with the MCU. The film moved away from the dour, Zack Snyder-led boys' club of previous installments and brought Wonder Woman to life as an inspirational hero — and it also didn't forget how to have some fun with its characters. A sequel was a no-brainer, and this time, one of the Amazonian warrior's most memorable villains is along for the ride.

We're talking about Barbara Ann Minerva, also known as Cheetah.

Barbara is played by Kristen Wiig in Wonder Woman 1984, and although the marketing for the film is relatively coy as to whether Cheetah will unsheath her claws or the film is merely setting her up for down the line, if you've kept up with Wonder Woman's history, you know it's only a matter of time. Of course, if you're new to her adventures, you may not know too much about Cheetah. Here's what you need to know about Wonder Woman's arch-nemesis before you see the film — she's much more than just a cat lady. 

Cheetah is one of the fastest characters in the entire DC universe

Comics fans love to debate which hero is more powerful in various ways, and the argument over speed always centers on Superman and the Flash. Cheetah is a character who rarely enters the conversation, but she deserves a place in it.

During the "Flash War" comics storyline, DC writer Josh Williamson provided his list of the ten fastest DC characters. Obviously, a few speedsters and Superman sit at the top of the list. Coming in sixth, however, is our old friend Barbara Minerva. She's ranked ahead of some extremely powerful characters, including Kid Flash, Wonder Woman and Shazam.

Cheetah has always been extremely fast, but she also worked with Zoom to help gain access to even more speed. In pre-New 52 comics, Zoom convinced Barbara to kill the other individuals who had used the moniker "Cheetah" in the past, solidifying her place as the one true Cheetah. This unlocked her potential and granted her access to speed that can rival the fastest characters in the DC Universe.

Four different people have held the Cheetah title

In Wonder Woman 1984, Kristen Wiig plays Barbara Ann Minerva, easily Cheetah's most well-known alter ego. However, a few different people have held the title — the character dates all the way back to 1943, nearly as old as Wonder Woman herself, but Barbara didn't start appearing in comics until 1987.

The first Cheetah appeared in 1943, and the character has evolved a great deal since then. The original was named Priscilla Rich, and she got all her powers from her costume. She was replaced in 1980 by a woman named Deborah Domaine, who made way for Barbara Ann Minerva in 1987. Finally, a man named Sebastian Bellastreros claimed the mantle in 2001.

DC has reset its continuity a few times in the last couple decades, making Barbara the only Cheetah to have existed in the publisher's current continuity — although as a sort of homage to the others who have held the title, she often uses their names as aliases when she sets her plans in action.

Cheetah taught Wonder Woman how to speak English

When DC rebooted their comics with the New 52 and Rebirth events, they did so to help streamline many of their characters' origin stories and erase all sorts of continuity blips that had come up over the years. In doing so, they tied Cheetah and Wonder Woman's origins very close to one another, making their rivalry much more interesting than "Bad woman dislikes good woman."

In current continuity, Barbara is a brilliant archaeologist who works with the government to help translate Wonder Woman's language and help acclimate her to society. Barbara actually teaches Diana the English language, and the two become friends. However, Barbara's interest in mythology allows her to be manipulated into becoming the vessel for a god named Urzkartaga, granting her Cheetah's powers.

For a while, Barbara resented being tricked and had a complicated relationship with Wonder Woman. Eventually, she embraced her powers and became fueled by rage and revenge, turning against her former friend and becoming the villain we know today.

Cheetah gained her powers after being tricked by another WW villain

In the DC Rebirth event, Cheetah's backstory was altered dramatically. Barbara Ann Minerva was introduced as a friend and teacher to Diana before being tricked and coerced into becoming Cheetah. Interestingly, another Wonder Woman villain is responsible for Barbara's transformation: Veronica Cale.

Veronica Cale is a relatively new addition to DC Comics — she first appeared in 2003 — but she's become one of Wonder Woman's greatest foes in that short period of time. The easiest way to describe Cale is to compare her to Lex Luthor: she's rich, successful, extremely intelligent, and resents the values Wonder Woman stands for. Also like Luthor, she's secretly jealous that she doesn't possess her powers.

When Barbara learned of the ancient god Urzkartaga, Cale funded her expedition to the country Bwunda to learn more about it. The sons of Ares convinced Cale to send Barbara there, seeking to turn her into a goddess so she could be used as a weapon against Wonder Woman. Cheetah recognized that Cale was the cause of her curse, and has sought revenge against her multiple times.

Cheetah had a fling with pre-Superman Clark Kent

In the convoluted history of comic book characters, it can seem as if everyone has hooked up with everyone else, and the Clark Kent/Barbara Ann Minerva fling from the Superman: American Alien comic is a prime example. Not only did the pre-Supes Clark Kent have a romantic tryst with Barbara, but she may also have helped him establish his dual identity.

The premise for this comic is wonderful: Clark Kent wins a trip to the Bahamas, but his plane crashes. He finds his way to Bruce Wayne's yacht, but the billionaire isn't there. Naturally, everyone assumes that Clark is Bruce Wayne, and Barbara Ann, another guest on the yacht, convinces him to go along with it.

In fact, Barbara even drops this one on Clark: "You can still be yourself, even while being someone else. Hell, it might even be easier."

Clark and Barbara open up quite a bit to one another throughout the storyline, with Clark even dancing around the idea of sharing his true, alien origin with her. Eventually the two part ways with fond memories of one another, and it's a fascinating look at two characters who "might have been."

She originally had no powers, just a fancy costume

Wonder Woman is an extraordinarily powerful character — a hugely important member of the Justice League who goes toe to toe with deities on a regular basis. In order to be a formidable foe on the battlefield, Cheetah would need godlike powers as well, right? Well, originally, no. She was just a lady in a fancy costume.

In DC's original continuity, Cheetah was a socialite named Priscilla Rich. She was arrogant and wealthy, and jealous of Wonder Woman's powers. So she... put on a cheetah-skin outfit and framed Wonder Woman for crimes. (Look, maybe there's a reason DC reset their continuity?)

Eventually, the writers got smart and started giving Priscilla access to powerful artifacts so she could actually hang with Wonder Woman. Otherwise, it would be similar to some regular jamoke taking a swing at Superman. Things changed with Barbara Ann Minerva and the Rebirth continuity, but it's fun to know that originally, all it took to be a supervillain was a bit of jealousy.

Cheetah is a founding member of the Injustice League and was a part of the Suicide Squad

As a character who's been around for decades, Cheetah has been a part of several different villainous organizations over the years. However, she's a founder of one group that puts her in some elite supervillain company: the Injustice League.

The Injustice League had many different members in its different iterations, but the Injustice League Unlimited put Cheetah up there with two of DC's biggest villains as a founding member. The group was started by Lex Luthor, Joker, and Cheetah to go up against the Justice League — they recruited several other villains to help form a team that could compete with the best heroes the world had to offer.

Cheetah also served as a member of Amanda Waller's Suicide Squad. She wasn't always a member of the team (after all, the Suicide Squad didn't typically maintain members for extended periods of time), but she was part of the version that was cribbed for the Suicide Squad movie, along with characters like Harley Quinn, El Diablo, Deadshot, and Captain Boomerang.

Cheetah originally hated Wonder Woman because she wanted to steal her lasso

Barbara Ann Minerva is an archaeologist obsessed with ancient gods and mythology, so Wonder Woman is basically walking catnip to her — living proof that ancient myth is real and walks among humanity. It makes perfect sense why Barbara would want to be close to her. This also led to an obsession with Diana's artifacts — specifically, her Lasso of Truth.

Remarkably, it wasn't that hard for her to get it — she just told Diana that she was in possession of another mythical artifact that was a matching set with the lasso, and she wanted to see how the two items interacted. Unluckily for Cheetah, when she took hold of the lasso, she immediately told Wonder Woman her true plan — she was going to steal it and use it for evil. It goes without saying that she was not allowed to keep the lasso at this point.

Cheetah has the powers of an ancient god

In order to keep up with Wonder Woman, Cheetah has to have some pretty impressive abilities. Just like Wonder Woman can trace her powers from divine beings, so too can her nemesis. Cheetah's powers derive from an African fertility god named Urzkartaga.

Urzkartaga is a plant god who requires blood sacrifices. Like the Amazon tribe that Wonder Woman hails from, the groups that follow Urzkartaga are dominated by women who worship the god and seek to gain his favor. Urzkartaga grants the powers of Cheetah to one woman at a time — in the post-Rebirth timeline, that woman is Barbara Ann Minerva.

Cheetah's powers have evolved over time, but she's always maintained a few — specifically her speed, strength, and agility. Another element that sets Cheetah apart is her killer instinct — she has split-second reflexes and is always seeking her opponent's weakness to finish the fight immediately. Her ferocity in battle and godlike abilities make her a powerful foe, even for a being like Wonder Woman.