Who is Cheetah? Kristen Wiig's Wonder Woman 1984 villain explained
The time has come, once again, for another crash course in comic book lore for all you casual superhero enthusiasts.
Director Patty Jenkins confirmed back in 2018 that the rumblings about the secret villain of Wonder Woman 1984 were indeed true: Kristen Wiig, of Saturday Night Live and Bridesmaids fame, will play Cheetah. But, like all of those puzzled viewers walking out of the theater after a post-credits scene, we know there are others out there going, “Are we supposed to know who that is?”
No need to fret. You can start dazzling your geeky friend circle with this quick guide to the character.
[Editor’s note: This article was originally published on March 9, 2018 and has most recently been updated on Feb. 11, 2020.]
Cheetah is one of Diana’s most famous adversaries. If the name didn’t tip you off, she assumes a feline appearance, typically with cheetah-esque spots, tail, and ferocious claws to match. She also maintains feline agility and strength. Unlike Catwoman, Cheetah is an actual cat woman.
She has appeared across DC’s comic books, animated TV series, and animated movies. But, after Wonder Woman herself finally got the live-action feature film she deserved in 2017, her foe will come to life on the big screen with Wonder Woman 2.
Various characters have assumed the name Cheetah. Priscilla Rich was the original Cheetah, hailing from the Golden Age of comic books in the 1940s. Suffering from a split personality, one side of Priscilla was a rich debutante who felt upstaged by Diana. The other side was the Cheetah, a nefarious, more metaphorically cat-like huntress who executed robberies. Priscilla’s niece, Deoborah Domaine, picked up the mantle of Cheetah in later issues. There was also a male Cheetah at one point, though his stint was short lived, and another iteration saw the character as a resurrected Amazon warrior.
Perhaps the more recognized version came in 1987’s Wonder Woman: Rebirth! #7. Barbara Minerva, a British archeologist, invoked the cat god Urzkartaga and transmogrified into a superhuman feline form. Barbara’s origin has been tweaked in various comics over the years, like in the New 52 story line when she was seen alongside Steve Trevor in Washington, D.C. as Wonder Woman arrived. Obsessed with Greek mythology and historic artifacts, Barbara became enthralled with Wonder Woman and her golden lasso.
Jenkins confirmed over social media that Barbara is the version of Cheetah Wiig will be playing. We’ve seen Cara Delevingne’s June Moone channeling an ancient sorceress in Suicide Squad, so Wiig channeling a mutant cat lady isn’t so farfetched for the DC movie universe.
Jenkins’ first film introduced Diana as the daughter of the god Zeus and Themyscira’s Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), and the heroine fought against Ares, the god of war (David Thewlis). For Wonder Woman 1984, which, as the title stipulates, takes place in the ’80s, Barbara is a gemologist working at the Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. (Perhaps it’s a gem that transforms Barbara into the Cheetah.) She’s awkward, timid, and initially finds a friend in her coworker Diana (Gal Gadot), who’s been living a quiet life and dealing with the deaths of her past loves and friends in the face of her own immortality.
“In the lore, Cheetah is often someone who’s friends with Diana but jealous of her,” Jenkins said for EW’s March cover story. “And I feel like Kristen’s playing a character who’s both ends of the spectrum — she’s your warm, funny friend who’s kind and interesting and then can transform into something completely different.”
As Barbara embraces more of her Cheetah side, she’ll get entangled with Maxwell Lord, a mogul and “dream stealer,” actor Pedro Pascal described. “It’s this character who encompasses a component of the era which is, you know, ‘Get whatever you want, however you can. You’re entitled to it!’” the Game of Thrones alum said. “And at any cost, ultimately, which represents a huge part of our culture and this kind of unabashed — it’s greed. It’s f—ing greed of course. But it’s also about How do you be your best self? How do you win? So he’s definitely the face of that version of success.”
Wonder Woman 1984 is scheduled to open in theaters on June 4, 2020.