Who Is Barbara Minerva? Kristen Wiig’s ‘Wonder Woman’ Character Has a Fascinating History

Kristen Wiig at a screening of Zoolander 2

Kristen Wiig l GettyImages/Jeff Spicer

Kristen Wiig’s Wonder Woman 1984 villain has just been revealed. On Wednesday, director Patty Jenkins posted a photo of the former SNL star as Barbara Minerva, a.k.a. Cheetah. This is actually the first time we’ve received confirmation that this is the character Wiig is playing. So who, exactly, is Barbara Minerva? What do we know about her from the comics?

Wiig is playing the Cheetah, but as is often the case with comics, a lot of different characters have gone by that name over the years. The first was a socialite, Priscilla Rich, who made her debut all the way back in 1943. Many other characters became the Cheetah after her, though. So when it was announced that Wiig had been cast as the Cheetah, fans weren’t sure which version we’d be seeing on screen.

Now, we know that it will be the version readers were introduced to in 1987, Barbara Minerva. In the first incarnation of this character, she’s a ruthless British archaeologist who leads an expedition into the African jungle in hopes of finding the lost city of the Urzkartagan tribe. When we meet her, Barbara already has a reputation for going to whatever lengths necessary in order to find what she’s looking for during her archeological endeavors.

She ends up finding the city, discovering the tribe is led by a woman with magical powers of a cheetah god. Most of the members of that tribe are attacked and killed, but in the aftermath, Minerva has the surviving high priest perform a ritual on her so that she can become this cheetah woman, gaining immortality and strength of the god Urzkartaga. A blood sacrifice is required, though, and so Barbara kills one of the members of her expedition and drinks his blood.

It turns out there’s a bit of a problem with the ritual. You’re supposed to be a virgin in order for it to work, and Minerva wasn’t, meaning she becomes weak when she’s in human form and is only powerful when she’s the Cheetah. When she’s in that form, she has super strength, speed, and agility.

Originally, the way that Cheetah came into contact with Wonder Woman was that she wants to steal Diana’s Lasso of Truth as another artifact to add to her collection. She tries to take it by lying to Diana, which doesn’t work at all considering she’s compelled to tell the truth as soon as she touches the thing. After being defeated in battle, she becomes determined to take down Diana.

As part of DC Comics’ 2011 relaunch, Barbara was given a new backstory, and she becomes much more sympathetic as a result. This time, her origin involves her being raised in a brutal warrior cult, killing her brother in combat on her last day with them. In this version, Barbara is also actually friends with Wonder Woman before she becomes the Cheetah. She ultimately turns on Diana, though.

Eventually, Barbara sets out to find something called the God-Killer Knife, and she ultimately finds the weapon and stabs herself with it; it turns out, this ancient dagger was cursed by the Goddess of the Hunt, and so stabbing herself with it turns her into the Cheetah.

Then, in 2016, the character’s backstory was altered yet again. This time, she’s a young woman who becomes obsessed with proving that the Amazons exist. She again becomes good friends with Diana Prince herself, this time helping Diana learn English when she leaves Themyscira.

Not long after meeting Diana, Barbara goes on an African expedition and is unwillingly transformed into the Cheetah by Urzkartaga. So again, she’s now more of a sympathetic character; she doesn’t even want to become the Cheetah unlike in the original version. Barbara ends up being furious at Diana since she promised to help her if anything went wrong on her expedition to Africa but wasn’t there for her when she needed saving. So she turns on her friend and becomes Wonder Woman’s enemy. From there, it’s sort of like a Captain America and Bucky Barnes situation, where Diana faces this villain while always trying to see the good in her.

Wonder Woman fights against Cheetah in a DC Comics issue

Wonder Woman and Cheetah | DC Comics

It remains to be seen which version of Barbara Minerva will end up in Wonder Woman 1984, but the most recent incarnation would make the most sense. That’s the most emotionally compelling version of the character, and it seems like it would fit this universe a lot better than the more over-the-top original one. Plus, in the new photo, Wiig notably has blonde hair like the current comics version and not the red-haired one.

Wonder Woman 1984 is currently in production. In addition to Wiig, Pedro Pascal will appear in the film in what is believed to be a villainous role. The film hits theaters on November 1st, 2019.

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