Who is Cheetah? Wonder Woman 1984 villain’s comic backstory explained

Kristen Wiig plays a dangerous new foe in the latest DC Comics movie.

Kristen Wiig stars as Cheetah in Wonder Woman 1984

A classic DC Comics villain is set to make her live-action debut in Wonder Woman 1984, the long-delayed blockbuster which finally arrives in cinemas this month.

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Cheetah is a character with decades of comic book history who has become one of the most well-known adversaries of Diana Prince, very nearly besting her on several occasions.

Bridesmaids and Ghostbusters star Kristen Wiig is to portray her in Gal Gadot’s second solo Wonder Woman movie, which will chart her transformation from overlooked geologist to metahuman threat.

Want to brush up on all things Cheetah before watching Wonder Woman 1984? We’ve got you covered. Read on for everything you need to know.

Who is Wonder Woman 1984’s Cheetah?

In Wonder Woman 1984, Cheetah’s real identity is Barbara Ann Minerva, an intelligent geologist who works at the same museum as Diana Prince and is initially friendly towards her.

Wonder Woman 1984 cast member Kristen Wiig explains: “Barbara Minerva is a woman you sort of pass by, but she’s always wanted to be something more. Even though she’s very smart, she’s very insecure and doesn’t like herself much, so she tries too hard, which makes matters worse.

“When she sees Diana and all that Diana seems to be — so beautiful and stylish and confident and strong — she wants that. She wants to be that.”

Kristen Wiig in Wonder Woman 1984
Kristen Wiig in Wonder Woman 1984
Warner Bros.

Barbara’s friendship with Diana begins to deteriorate as her ambition soars ever higher and she makes radical changes in pursuit of the life she has always dreamed of.

Wiig added: “Barbara’s transformation is emotional and physical. She starts out very dowdy but then she starts to wear more form-fitting clothes, her hair’s a little different, she’s got make-up on.

“Then she notices people are noticing her and she really likes it. Her attitude shifts and she starts to become this person she thinks will make her happy.”

“When I read the script, I was so excited by the extent of the transformation of my character, how much she changes and how evil she becomes. I’ve always wanted to do something like that, so it was a dream for me to get to play her.”

Cheetah origin story explained

Wonder Woman: Cheetah in the comics
DC Comics

As is the case with a number of DC Comics characters, the origin of Cheetah has changed over the years as the publisher has rebooted or shaken up its existing continuity.

Barbara Ann Minerva first appeared in August 1987, introduced as a British archaeologist and the heir to a massive fortune, but her privilege had made her cold and selfish.

Her passion for archaeology is what sparks her transformation, as she seeks out an African tribe whose guardian manifests the powers of a cheetah.

Enlisting a gang of brutes, she kills the tribe’s guardian and attempts to imbue herself with the abilities, but the ritual is not entirely successful as it severely weakens her human form while her feline alter-ego thirsts for blood.

Her rivalry with Wonder Woman is born out of a desire to possess the warrior’s iconic Lasso of Truth, which fascinates Minerva as a priceless archaeological artefact.

Wonder Woman 1984
Wonder Woman 1984
Warner Bros

In 2011, DC Comics published The New 52, an exhaustive line of comic books that completely reimagined its universe and the characters within it.

As part of this initiative, Cheetah was given a new origin, where she is said to have been a former ally of Wonder Woman who was possessed by the Goddess of the Hunt, which transforms her into her dangerous animalistic persona.

The New 52 was rendered no longer canon in 2016, when DC Comics hit the reset button once again for a new line of comics titled Rebirth, which once again tweaked the Cheetah mythos.

The latest incarnation of the character retains the original’s archaeological expertise, with two PhDs in the subject, and is originally a friend to Diana Prince – just as we see in Wonder Woman 1984.

However, while working closely with Wonder Woman and her associates, Minerva becomes obsessed with their seemingly divine abilities and this infatuation is exploited by the villainous sons of Ares: Deimos and Phobos.

The duo lure Minerva into a trap in which she is wedded to the fearsome ancient plant god Urzkartaga, transforming her into the Cheetah and destroying her faith in Wonder Woman, who had failed to protect her.

Cheetah powers and abilities explained

Cheetah is a formidable physical threat to Wonder Woman, with a number of abilities far beyond that of a normal human being.

Among them are super strength, speed and agility, as well as heightened senses and reflexes, all of which combine to make her very dangerous in one-on-one combat.

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Wonder Woman 1984 is released in UK cinemas on 16th December. While you’re waiting, check out our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight.