Wonder Woman 1984: Get to Know Cheetah

We dive into the comic book origins of Cheetah to analyze the character's appearance in the new Wonder Woman 1984 trailer.

Photo: DC/Warner Bros.

Wonder Woman 1984 will apparently still be hitting screens in October of this year and, when it does, the film will introduce fans to one of Princess Diana of Themyscira’s most famed rogues. The character of Cheetah was created—like Diana—by William Moulton Marston and H. G. Peter, but has appeared in the comics in multiple guises.

The version that we’re getting in the highly-anticipated sequel is based on the third incarnation of the character: George Pérez and Len Wein’s classic ’87 creation, Barbara Ann Minerva. In the comics, Barbara is an archaeologist from the British isles who, in an Indiana Jones-esque adventure, becomes imbued with the spirit of a powerful deity known as Urzkartaga. But, from the new trailer, it seems like that origin will be drastically changed, focusing on the movie version of Cheetah’s relationship with Maxwell Lord

Though the trailer didn’t give too much away, what was clear is that this is a very different version of Cheetah. Barbara seems to be a mousy, quiet, and polite young woman who goes through a transformation thanks to Maxwell Lord’s promise that he can change peoples lives.  “Anything you want, anything you can dream of, you can have it,” Lord teases in voiceover. Here, that seems to be the power for Barbara to fight Wonder Woman, who the transformed woman believes has “had everything” whereas people like Barbara have “had nothing.” Perhaps this is in relation to the idea of superheroes in a mortal world? Or could it be that Barbara found out about the existence of Themyscira through her work and gained a simmering resentment for the female-led island where brilliant women live lives of strength and harmony? Either way, this seems like a big change from her origin.

We also get more than one moment in the new trailer where Diana and Barbara face down, building on the idea that the pair have a relationship before Barbara fully transforms. We know that Diana works in museums and that, in the comics, Minerva’s career would put them in the same circles—we’ll come back to that a little later—so could it be as simple as a personal jealousy or competition? I’d hope not, as there’s far more interesting and complex ways for the pair to interact. Hilariously, their battles in the comics come from a very solid petty comic book motivation: Barbara wants Diana’s Lasso of Truth simply as something to add to her collection of archeological finds. Although that seems to be an unlikely route for the movie, it’s certainly something to keep in mind. This is all in the pre-Crisis version of the character’s backstory, though, and what we’re going to see in WW84 seems to be taking more from the post-Crisis timeline. 

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During the New 52 reboot, Cheetah was reintroduced as a sometime friend and most of the time foe of Diana who was raised in an all-female cult known as “Amazonia.” She was trained to see life and survival as a hunt but, as much as that might seem a little dark for the movie, what’s key here is the pair’s relationship. In this iteration of the character, Barbara is an antiquities expert rather than an archeologist and becomes close with Diana as they work together, but she becomes obsessed with Diana’s origins and wishes to become superpowered herself due to her upbringing in the commune. From what we saw in the trailer that could definitely be woven into Barbara’s backstory or motivation, especially as we hear her say, “I don’t want to be like anyone. I want to be an Apex predator.” But whatever happens, it’s definitely going to be a melding of her decades-long history as an antagonist to the hero of Themyscira. 

The biggest diversion here seems to be the addition of Maxwell Lord to Cheetah’s backstory. In the comics, she’s driven only by her own desires and discovery, but it seems like, in WW84, part of her journey will be shaped by Lord. Pedro Pascal will be playing the ’80s villain and we can’t wait to see him on screen, but I’m not too happy about the addition of Lord to Barbara’s backstory as it adds a man into the female-led conflict at the core of these two characters. 

One of the most unique things about this iteration of Cheetah is her human look. As a huge Batman Returns fan, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Barbara’s looks and attitude shift and Michelle Pfeiffer’s iconic performance as Catwoman in the 1992 movie. The geek-to-goth transformation seems key here and echoes Selina Kyle’s journey after she’s pushed out of the window by Max Schreck. In the trailer, we see Barbara as a mousy blonde in glasses and a sweater before she begins to rock a studded leather jacket and smudged eyeliner. Cheetah is also a feline-themed DC hero, so it makes sense that Jenkins and co. may have added a little homage here and there to Pfeiffer’s memorable turn as Catwoman. 

Whatever direction the film decides to go, it’ll be very interesting to see how Cheetah and Wonder Woman square up, and whether they ultimately have to team up to take down Maxwell Lord. Girl Power, etc!