In Wonder Woman's 2017 debut solo film, the Princess of Themyscira (Gal Gadot) took on a supervillain so powerful that it earned her the title "The Godkiller." She'll follow up that massive feat in the upcoming sequel Wonder Woman 1984 by facing off against yet another adversary whose powers also surpass that of a mere mortal. But the new big bad, Cheetah, isn't your typical enemy — her tumultuous relationship with the leading lady of the DC Extended Universe stems from her own deep-rooted insecurities.
When Wonder Woman 1984 was first announced, and Cheetah a.k.a Barbara Minerva (played by Kristen Wiig) was revealed to be appearing in the sequel, fans were excited about the film because of the history of bad blood between the characters. Even more so than any other in the canon, Cheetah is widely considered the superhero's deadliest and most dangerous archenemy.
Though there are several versions of Cheetah in DC Comics canon, the one fans will be seeing in Wonder Woman 1984 is Barbara Ann Minerva. Comic book readers first meet Barbara as a passionate archaeologist, whose profession leads her to a mysterious African village. There, she encounters a tribe who worships an ancient plant-god called Urzkartaga, a deity with the powers of a cheetah. Barbara is forced to partake in a mystical ceremony — not unlike the Black Panther's ingestion of the heart-shaped herb, but with the Urzkartaga berries and human blood instead — and is granted the powers of the cheetah god.
But there are consequences to such a gift, so much so that it's almost a curse. Because the avatar of Urzkartaga is always supposed to be a virgin, and Barbara is not, there are intense physical and mental side effects to being possessed by the god; in the comics, Barbara is constantly wrought with severe pain in her human form and becomes cannibalistic when she turns into a cheetah. So it's not all fun and games.
When she returns stateside, Barbara learns of Diana Prince's famed Lasso of Truth, formed from Aphrodite's girdle. She attempts to get close to Diana so that she can acquire the lasso, and in the process, Barbara becomes increasingly jealous of the demigod; shy and seemingly average, Barbara can't help but envy all of the attention that Diana receives from the world. The plan to own the weapon ultimately fails — it can't be handled by just anyone, after all — and Barbara is overwhelmed by her resentment, and the dark spirit of Urzkartaga completely consumes her. As a result, she makes up her mind to defeat Wonder Woman, sparking a violent rivalry between the former friends.
In the comics, Cheetah and Wonder Woman's relationship is complicated; Diana tends to sees her less as a foe and more as a friend gone down the wrong path. Throughout DC lore, the women even hesitantly work together to take on other villains before battling each other again. Like any good superhero story, it's complicated.
See the origin story of this epic DC Comics rivalry play out in Wonder Woman 1984, now available for streaming on HBO Max.