Well, folks, it’s superhero casting time again — and we got ourselves a big one. Today, Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins confirmed that the rumors were true: Kristen Wiig will be playing the WW sequel’s Big Bad, the Cheetah. You know, the Cheetah. No, not Catwoman, the Cheetah. What, not ringing any bells? Don’t you worry your furry little tail, because we can provide the explanatory juice you so crave. Let’s prowl into the Cheetah’s basics, shall we?
Okay, so what’s the Cheetah’s basic deal?
She’s a were-cheetah.
You heard me. She typically looks like an ordinary woman, but has the ability to morph into a human-cheetah hybrid, complete with increased speed, strength, and agility. Sometimes she’s in control of her power, other times she isn’t. In many depictions, she serves an ancient god named Urzkartaga.
Does she have an alter ego?
Yes, Dr. Barbara Ann Minerva, superstar archaeologist and inheritor of aristocratic wealth. Think Indiana Jones but with a drier wit, a bigger wallet, and a soft spot for snooty put-downs. There were technically two previous Cheetahs in comics history, superrich society ladies Priscilla Rich and Deborah Domaine, but I can’t imagine that the movie will draw anything from those two incarnations other than in-jokes. There’s also a tiny chance that they’ll base her on a reimagining from 2012, where Minerva was raised in a cult, but that version was abandoned in favor of a more faithful Minerva interpretation in 2016, so we can assume that that’s where DC’s mind is at these days.
Is she a big deal?
Yes, she’s one of the all-time most iconic Wonder Woman foes. She’s ubiquitous and colorful enough to possibly be defined as Diana’s Joker. Case in point: When the legendary Challenge of the Super Friends DC cartoon aired back in the day, WW’s counterpart on the Legion of Doom was Cheetah, confirming her archnemesis status.
How long has she been scratching around?
That question merits a two-part answer. The first version of the Cheetah, the Priscilla Rich one, is almost as old as Wonder Woman herself. Diana’s co-creators, William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter, introduced their heroine in 1941 and Cheetah in 1943. In other words, she’s part of the original canon, right alongside the villains of the first Wonder Woman movie, Ares and Doctor Poison. But the Barbara Ann Minerva version was introduced in 1987 as part of writer-artist George Pérez’s legendary run on Wonder Woman. Either way, she’s not a spring chicken in the history of comics.
What’s the source of her power?
She sold her soul to Urzkartaga in a quest for immortality and supernatural abilities. But the joke was on her, as she was then made his servant on Earth. The first Minerva comics origin story had her traveling to a pretty stereotypical depiction of remote Africa to encounter Urzkartaga, so I wouldn’t be shocked if they avoid or heavily tweak that part of her background.
What’s her connection to Wonder Woman?
The general idea is that, as a monomaniacal archaeologist, Minerva is obsessed with Diana’s Themysciran identity, knowledge, and possessions. That leads the pair to interact and fall into combat for various reasons. But Diana also often feels sympathy for Minerva, a fallible and tortured woman trapped by a god.
Is Kristen Wiig a good choice to play her?
She’s certainly an interesting one! Cheetah is not traditionally played for laughs, and Wiig is generally cast in chuckle-generating parts. That said, she’s an enormously gifted performer and this could be one of those comedy-to-pathos turns that you’ve seen with folks like Bill Murray and Bob Odenkirk. Minerva’s also usually British, which would be a departure for Wiig. But hey, if Wiig can pull off scaring the shit out of you by shooting people point-blank in the head, she’s not to be underestimated.
If I wanted to read a good Cheetah story, where should I look?
Your best bet for accessibility and likely connection to the movie is the beginning of the most recent Wonder Woman series, launched in 2016. Start with Wonder Woman: The Lies and move on to Wonder Woman: Year One to see the tale and ideas behind the latest incarnation of this prime baddie.
Was her co-creator, William Moulton Marston, involved in a queer love triangle?
That’s a matter of some debate.