Among Wonder Woman's many villains, Cheetah is perhaps the most recognizably iconic. Her first appearance was in 1943, and she's been consistently showing up since then. The first Cheetah was otherwise known as Priscilla Rich, a socialite suffering from a form of dementia that led her to go into a jealous rage when she saw people fawning over Wonder Woman. Later, Priscilla's niece Deborah Domaine is kidnapped and tortured by the villain Kobra who transforms her into the new Cheetah — although Deborah, and that version of the character, was more or less retconned out of existence by the mid-'80s (mostly due to never being a fully fleshed out character, and therefore not particularly interesting to fans).
Although she wasn't the first or even second Cheetah, and she wasn't introduced until 1987 in a highly questionable “white archeologist in Africa” story, Barbara Minerva has since come to be the most iconic version, as well as the first version with superhuman powers. In an early appearance, we see Barbara go to the home of Priscilla Rich and murder her just to eliminate competition. Revamped in 2011 with the initial name of Barbara Ann Cavendish, she becomes Barbara Ann Minerva to spite her father. As Minerva, she earns a double PhD and becomes a renowned archeologist, ultimately going to a fictional country and encountering the plant-god Urzkartaga. Though Minerva desires the powers of the Cheetah, she is tortured by the god because she is not a virgin, condemned to agony when she's in her normal form and needing to survive off the flesh of humans as Cheetah. This incarnation is where we see Diana begin to develop sympathy for Cheetah, and their relationship becomes less arch-nemeses and more strained respect, yet still prone to outbursts of violence.
For a short time, there was even a fourth Cheetah: a man named Sebastian Ballesteros, who was the lover of the iconic Wonder Woman villain Circe. He stole Minerva's access to the powers of Cheetah by going to Urzkartaga and convincing the god that he would be a better Cheetah, with his argument being that men are superior to women. Later, Minerva straight up murdered him off panel to get her powers back.
As of 2011, the other versions of Cheetah were retconned out of existence and referred to only as aliases used by Minerva. Though Ares is generally considered Diana's most constant and dangerous villain, Cheetah has always played a role in her life that is much more difficult to define. Out of all the plentiful Cheetah canon, here are four stories we'd love to see used in some form in Wonder Woman 2.
Wonder Woman, Volume 1, #6
The first appearance of Priscilla Rich holds up pretty well, perhaps because of Cheetah's mostly inexplicable hatred of Wonder Woman. Considering the fact that the first Wonder Woman movie leaned heavily into the old comics for inspiration, it seems fairly likely that this might be the version of her that makes it to the big screen. William Marston-era Wonder Woman has been covered ad nauseum for incorporating feminist ideals in a way that often seems to fetishize them. Despite that, the early issues of Wonder Woman tend to be pretty fun to read. When a supporting cast member from the early days, improbably-but-awesomely named Courtley Darling opts to party with Diana rather than Priscilla, Priscilla goes into her bedroom — but she doesn't sit around feeling sorry for herself. Instead, she stares into a mirror until she sees a snarling beast gazing back at her, refashions a cheetah-skin rug into an outfit, and goes out fully ready to murder Wonder Woman. In an amusing moment, Cheetah decides that rather than kill Diana, she's going to frame her for theft. As with most of the very best arch-nemesis stories, Wonder Woman has zero idea that Priscilla exists and is very surprised when she walks in on her trying to murder a tied up Courtley. Cheetah has a lot of harebrained schemes in this issue, but one of my favorites is that she forces Wonder Woman and Courtley to leap into a wheat-bin, intending for them to suffocate. “Death by wheat-bin” might not sound that menacing, but it establishes The Cheetah early on as a villain with very strange, very extreme ideas on the concept of revenge.
Wonder Woman, Volume 2, Issues 94-95, “Poison, Claws, and Death”
This story would be unquestionably difficult to finagle, involving Batman villain Poison Ivy as well as the assassin known as Cheshire, one of the most ubiquitous DC villains of all time. It's also mired in comic tropes of the 1990s. Much like Superman was given a mullet, Diana was given a new black costume to make her seem edgier. Spoiler alert: it didn't really work for either of them, and she always looks like she just got out of the gym. At one point, Diana's sister Artemis shows up to be fairly awful for a little while in her brief role as Wonder Woman. But this is a story where one Dr. Barbara Minerva really shines. We open the story with Poison Ivy killing a benefactor she's seduced for his money and Cheshire breaking out of prison (must be Tuesday!) Diana gets blindsided and beaten down pretty badly. She stumbles through an alley, and warns the person she sees there to run — but it's Cheetah, who throws off her cloak and attacks a flailing Diana. The three women capture her. When Diana finally escapes, there's a long brawl and a small twist ending involving Cheetah that establishes her as a highly complicated individual — particularly in the way she responds to Diana.
Wonder Woman: Rebirth
In 2016, Greg Rucka returned to his popular run on Wonder Woman after a long hiatus. One of his first moves was to introduce Barbara Ann Minerva as a much more sympathetic character than we had previously seen. In this incarnation, Minerva is still overly ambitious, with a chip on her shoulder towards her openly sexist colleagues, but her merging with The Cheetah is an accident. When Diana comes to the “world of men,” multilingual Barbara teaches her to speak our languages. They become best friends. Besides all of that, Etta Candy is a queer black woman who openly flirts with Barbara, which is a canon ship that I never knew the world needed. The tormented villain of our tale, Veronica, makes a deal that leads to Barbara's transformation into Cheetah, which is even more painful in this story than it ever was before. When Diana shows up to check on Barbara, The Cheetah is covered in human blood, having torn people apart and eaten them to appease her curse. There are a lot more twists and turns to the story, but this version of Dr. Minerva drives home the tragedy of the character and gives me one of my favorite queer ships to appear in a mainstream comic in recent years.
Wonder Woman, Volume 3, Issues 26-33, “Rise of the Olympian”
Gail Simone's run on Wonder Woman is usually considered a high point — both for the author and the character. Simone put Diana through the ringer, often, but the opus of her run may very well have been “Rise of the Olympian,” an eight-part story that begins with Diana beaten and her lasso stolen. Throughout the story, we see appearances from nearly all of Wonder Woman's entire cast of characters. Of course that also includes Cheetah, who has been manipulating things from behind the scenes. Unlike other writers, who have either made Cheetah over-the-top evil or attempted to sympathize with her, Simone writes her as a troubled woman with a sense of ruthlessness about her that makes the character click. As Diana herself states, none of her other villains are nearly so cunning as Barbara Minerva. While “Rise” is much more a Wonder Woman story than a Cheetah story, one of its strengths lies in Simone's ability to merge Wonder Woman's large cast of supporting characters and villains all into one seamless story while offering individual character growth for them all. With Wonder Woman and Cheetah pushing each other to their limits, both Diana and Barbara come across much more ruthless and much more fascinating than ever before.