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They Did My Villains Dirty

by Phoebe Sunny Sheng 4 months ago in comics
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Part 2: Cheetah


Look How They Massacred My Girl.

Speaking of past sins coming back to hunt heroes, I’m going to take a stab at creating the version of Cheetah for “Wonder Woman 1984” that I would’ve been ecstatic to see, built around this very concept.

First, enter Dr. Barbara Ann Minerva. She’s selfish, severely neurotic, and too ambitious for her own good, but one of her more dorky and endearing qualities is her fiery passion for archeology. That passion ultimately becomes her undoing. She finances an expedition to Africa, whereupon the majority of the party is murdered, and she is subjected to a horrific ritual involving the plant god Urzkartaga that curses her with agony and disability in her human form and bloodthirsty euphoria when she transforms into the one and only Cheetah.

Secondly, enter Deborah “Debbie” Domaine, which seems to be the version that “Wonder Woman 1984” draws most of its inspiration from. A beautiful but compassionate young debutante who is suffering from illness decides to become an ecological activist, striking up a close friendship with Diana Prince. Unfortunately, this is not to last as she is kidnapped by one of Wonder Woman’s foes and tortured into becoming the Cheetah once again.

These are the two versions that I grew up with. They both contain elements of this iconic villainess that were present in “Wonder Woman 1984”, but that I felt could’ve been developed further: Her friendship with Diana and the torturous circumstances that transformed a beauty, both inside and out, into a beast.

Enter Dr. Barbara Ann Minerva. She’s severely neurotic and too ambitious for her own good, but she has an infectious passion for archeology and ecology. All of her relatives will tell you that she is one of the most compassionate people you will ever meet. That sincerity is what draws her to Diana Prince, and draws Diana Prince to her when they meet at an environment-related fundraiser. Eventually, Diana even entrusts Barbara with her true identity as a show of how much they trust each other and how far their bond has come. Barbara, ever the ancient history nerd, is of course elated that she’s besties with a demigod.

A few months later, Barbara invites Diana to join her on an expedition to Africa. Diana, being a demigod, knows the risks that could come with venturing into Urzkartaga’s territory. Diana reluctantly agrees to come along, convincing herself that she will be able to protect Barbara if anything goes awry. Besides, she’s curious about what's inside Uzkartaga’s temple, too. However, as any avid mythology fan is fully aware, being a demigod doesn’t guarantee that she is perfect.

Diana, Barbara, and the expedition party enter Uzkartaga’s temple. Barbara expresses uncertainties about the potential dangers of entering his sacred domain. This is where Wonder Woman will make the most devastating mistake of her superheroine career. Diana assures Barbara that it is alright.

As soon as they step in, a booby trap is activated. Most of the expedition party is killed. Urzkartaga reveals himself. Diana fights Urzkartaga, and while she is distracted, Barbara is kidnapped by the tribe and forced into the ritual. Like before, Barbara emerges with debilitating chronic pain in her human form and bloodthirsty euphoria in her Cheetah form. This is a good place to insert a line from Cheetah’s Prime Earth version that serves as a nice callback to Barbara's earlier concerns about entering the temple in the first place.

“You should have listened to me while you had the chance.”

Additionally, she holds a personal vendetta against Wonder Woman for bringing her, a helpless mortal, into the world of gods and monsters and allowing her to be cursed.

“You said you would come. You lied.”

Wonder Woman then has to deal with the crippling guilt of failing to protect her best friend, having to fight her friend, and trying to appeal to her friends’ humanity. She couldn't save Steve Trevor, and now she's not sure if she can save Barbara Minerva either, but that doesn't mean she's going to give up on her.

“All that you have endured, everything that you have seen, and still you insist on believing in the best of me.”

I don’t know about you, but my inner nerd is pleased with this idea because it’s a banger of a supervillain origin story, it provides plenty of opportunity for some good old body horror because of the ritual (as opposed to simply wishing to be like Diana), and it’ll really milk the chemistry between Gal Gadot and Kirsten Wiig.

In this version, Barbara is jealous of Diana because the demigod came out of this ordeal seemingly unscathed (I say seemingly because watching your closest friend descend into madness will definitely leave an emotional scar) while she has to continually turn to her Cheetah side out of desperation to escape from her disease.

When I think of Wonder Woman’s villains, Cheetah is at the top of the list. She is an incredibly memorable, terrifying, and tragic figure that is both Diana’s beloved companion and her arch-nemesis. This is best exemplified by this exchange:

“-- condemned to eat man-flesh to live! You were my friend!”

“And so I remain. That has never changed.”

So, I hate seeing their relationship reduced to something as shallow as Barbara being envious of Diana’s popularity and beauty.

If you’re going to pit women against each other, you’d better justify that hatred, and if I get queer-baited by one more movie, that might just be my supervillain origin story.


If you are an aspiring screenwriter like myself, please remember that choosing to follow the source material isn’t necessarily a bad or lazy decision. These old comics were successful for a reason: they were well-written, and you can afford to learn a lot from them in terms of plot, character, setting, and especially the baddies. Chances are the fans will actually be quite pleased that you were faithful to the prototype and the outsiders won’t even notice. If you do try to come up with something new, that is lovely as well, but do at least some research so you don’t end up insulting the original work in the process.

My boy Taskmaster deserved better.

My girl Cheetah deserved better.

I am begging you.

Do my villains justice.



About the author

Phoebe Sunny Sheng

I'm a mad scientist - I mean, teen film critic and author who enjoys experimenting with multiple genres. If a vial of villains, a pinch of psychology, and a sprinkle of social commentary sound like your cup of tea, give me a shot.

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