Who is Cheetah? Meet Wonder Woman 2's new villain!

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Mar 9, 2018, 10:30 AM EST

During her first solo movie, Wonder Woman successfully faced Ares, the God of War. Now that preproduction of Wonder Woman 2 is underway, we know the identity of Diana’s next Big Bad: Cheetah. Director Patty Jenkins confirmed on Friday that former Saturday Night Live star Kristen Wiig will play the character... though it's currently unclear which incarnation of the character will be used within the film.

Wonder Woman has many enemies who are more powerful than Cheetah, so why would Jenkins want a second-rate Catwoman as the new lead villain? Because Cheetah is so much more than a woman in a catsuit. The modern version of Cheetah has an increasingly tragic backstory that could make her into a compelling figure onscreen. More importantly, Cheetah is simultaneously one of Wonder Woman's greatest adversaries and one of her closest friends.


Cheetah originally made her debut in 1943 in a story by Wonder Woman's co-creators, William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter. This version of Cheetah was Priscilla Rich, an upper-class woman who suffered from a split personality that compelled her to challenge Wonder Woman and commit crimes while dressed in a catsuit. She was admittedly goofy, even for the golden age of comic books. That's probably why Priscilla, and her successor, Deborah Domaine, won't be used in the movie.


The modern Cheetah is Barbara Ann Minerva, and she's the most likely incarnation of the character to end up onscreen. In the post-Crisis reboot of the '80s, George Perez and Len Wein came up with a Cheetah who was literally part cat and part woman. Barbara was an archaeologist who was seduced by the lure of eternal life and by the legend of the Cheetah. Barbara willingly underwent the ritual to become a "bride" of the ancient god Urzkartaga, but it didn't quite go as planned. The ritual was meant for a virgin, and it left Barbara with crippling pain in her human form. And in her transformed state, Barbara was a bloodthirsty predator with only a tenuous grasp on her humanity.

Diana's first meeting with Barbara occurred under false pretenses. Barbara wanted to get her hands on Diana's golden lasso, and tricked her into believing that she had located an important Amazon artifact. That betrayal came at a time when Diana was still new to life outside of her secluded island home, and it affected her ability to trust. Shortly thereafter, the new Cheetah had her first real fight with Wonder Woman, and she very nearly came out on top.

From there, Barbara and Diana could have had the standard hero vs. villain fights. But instead, they developed a more complex relationship. It wasn't exactly friendship, but the two women saved each other from dire situations and they had a mutual respect. After the New 52 reboot in 2011, Barbara was given a new origin story that strengthened her connection to Wonder Woman. In this timeline, Barbara was raised in a cult that worshiped the Amazons, and she was one of Diana's first friends in the outside world.


More recently, writer Greg Rucka went even further and made Barbara and Diana closer than ever before. In the DC Rebirth timeline, Barbara was the only one who could speak Diana’s native language, which gave the two women a much stronger bond in the past. But in the present, Barbara resented Diana for not saving her from the Cheetah’s curse. That led to a very powerful scene in which Diana approached Barbara for her help, and reiterated how she felt about their connection.


Diana actually helped Barbara rid herself of the Cheetah persona, but it wasn't a change that was destined to last forever. Barbara is Cheetah once more, and yet she's never been more interesting. Her newest origin could make Cheetah a very memorable comic book movie villain, and that's something we would love to see.