It’s said that if you really want to know a person’s character, you should look to see who their enemies are. And of all the villains in Wonder Woman’s vast collection, none of them have been as persistent as that felonious feline known as the Cheetah. Considering the many gods and witches and mad scientists to oppose the Champion of the Amazons over the years, it’s not unreasonable to wonder how exactly this orange agent of evil has stayed at the forefront since 1943.
The answer is simple—understudies.
That’s right. Through the decades, there have been five entirely different villains to oppose our warrior princess under the “Cheetah” name. But just who are they, and how can one tell them apart? And which one is the “real” Cheetah? As a part of super-villains week here on the road to DC FanDome, we thought we’d put together a handy field guide to spotting Cheetahs in the wild.
First Appearance: Wonder Woman #6 (1943)
The original Cheetah is still the longest to hold the title—or at least she will be for another few years. Priscilla was a wealthy gadabout, thrill-seeking socialite, beloved by all for her beauty and charm. She also suffered from two major problems: a red-hot jealousy streak and a serious case of disassociative identity disorder. When Wonder Woman made her debut in man’s world and became the talk of the season, Rich became so incensed that she developed a super-villain persona to dispose of her.
How to Spot: The face is the giveaway. Priscilla wears a full body suit, but keeps her face uncovered.
First Appearance: Wonder Woman #274 (1980)
“Debbi” Domaine was the niece of the original Cheetah, raised in luxury by Priscilla after she retired from her super-villain career. Debbi’s endeavors as a young woman were far more noble than her aunt’s—devoting herself to charitable works and causes. Until, that is, the international terrorist cult of Kobra kidnapped and brainwashed the heiress into becoming a Cheetah of their own.
How to Spot: Like her aunt Priss, Debbi likes to keep her face uncovered, but sports the embellishment of a plunging neckline. Not to blame her...it can get pretty sweaty up in those catsuits. (Why do you think Selina Kyle started cutting out armpit holes?)
Barbara Ann Minerva
First Appearance: Wonder Woman #7 (1987)
While Priscilla Rich may be the longest serving Cheetah, Barbara Ann Minerva is undoubtedly the most famous. The third woman to hold the title, Barbara Ann was the first Cheetah to appear after the title was rebooted in Crisis on Infinite Earths, and to this day, she remains the most frequently appearing incarnation of the character. During the New 52, “Priscilla Rich” and “Deborah Domaine” were even retconned as alternate identities used by Barbara Ann herself. And of course, it was Ms. Minerva who was memorably brought to life by Kristen Wiig in last year’s Wonder Woman 1984.
Once a bright and daring archaeologist with a promising future, Barbara Ann fell into a raw deal with an ancient African plant god—Urzkartaga, you know the one—and was transformed into the Cheetah, Urzkartaga’s bride and servant in the mortal world. Her first mission: to obtain Wonder Woman’s lasso. Diana and Barbara have been running at cross-purposes ever since. But as with so many of Diana’s enemies, Wonder Woman’s true goal is not to defeat this Cheetah, but to redeem her.
How to Spot: That’s no costume. If Cheetah’s face is as fuzzy as the rest of her, then we’re dealing with Ms. Minerva.
First Appearance: Wonder Woman #170 (2001)
Aside from the Cheetah, perhaps the most vexing villainess in Wonder Woman’s history is the sorceress Circe, the witch of ancient myth with a signature move of transmogrifying human subjects into her own animal hybrid slaves. One such servant was Sebastian Ballesteros, an Argentinian business tycoon, who took a brief turn at assuming the Cheetah mantle for himself. He even appealed to the chauvinism of Urzkartaga for a while, arguing that a male agent would be a more suitable representative of his power. But Barbara Ann killed this fool back in 2004 for stealing her game and he hasn’t been back since.
How to Spot: He’s a dude.
Cheetah, Agent of Morrigan
First Appearance: Wonder Woman #606 (2010)
To commemorate the 600th issue of Wonder Woman (when all of her numbered titles thence far had been added together), and only scant months before the line-wide reboot of the New 52, writer J. Michael Straczynski changed up Diana’s entire history so nothing was as it seemed. In this new reality, the Cheetah was a nameless Amazon warrior who was raised from the dead and infused with an ancient spirit by the Morrigan, a coven which sought to eliminate all Amazons from the world—starting with Diana.
How to Spot: Is Wonder Woman wearing pants? Then this is Morrigan Cheetah.
Well, that’s five lives down, and four to go, if the old cat legend is to be believed. With nearly eighty years of history already under the Cheetah's fur, it may be some time before we see them all in action. But no matter what form she takes, you can rest assured that Wonder Woman will always be the one to claim victory.
After all…Cheetahs never prosper.
DC FanDome returns on October 16, 2021! For more articles like this one, and to stay up to date on all the latest news, visit dcfandome.com.
Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.