The Many Faces of Barbara Minerva, part 3 (John Byrne)
This is a pretty short chapter, because Byrne spent 90% of his Wonder Woman run on guest stars rather than established Wondy characters. But that, in and of itself, is significant; of all the foes Diana faced during Byrne's run, the only actual currently extant member of her rogues gallery that made his cut was Cheetah (apparently the fans clamored for her). That Byrne would give even three issues to her that he could have spent on fake!Doomsday or Morgaine le Fay or Wally West or Etrigan speaks volumes about her significance.
And look, pretty pretty Garcia-Lopez art!
We actually start, though, not with Byrne but with Waid, and the '95 event known as "Underworld Unleashed." You may recall this crossover, during which Neron made deals-with-the-devil with a large number of rogues and a small number of heroes, offering power-ups (usually with a catch) in exchange for the usual. He was eventually defeated by the purity of Captain Marvel's soul, but not before warping quite a few characters out of normal form in ways meant to make them more useful but which in practice usually had sort of the opposite effect (poor Killer Moth).
You may also recall that, the last we saw Cheetah, she was savage, hyperpowered, out of her mind on the White Magician's brainwashing magic, and a half-step from killing Diana before she was bamfed away from the fight by Circe.
To find out what happened to her after that, we must go hang out with Trickster for a bit.
Neron gathered all the bad guys by mailing them these green candles, see, and they all end up in Hell's waiting room hanging out. Jesse spends a couple pages naming bad guys and accusing them of being second-string and not worth associating with.
"You snake." Now there's a genius insult to use on, um, a snake.
Blah blah Neron offers power, blah blah Circe is there for no apparent or explicable reason, blah blah a large number of the rogues are a little too smart for this shit and snuff their candles without making a deal. Then we finally get our two-page spread of everyone who *did* make a deal.
Note that Chetah looks significantly more orange than she did a minute ago. This was probably meant to be a visual indicator of her power-up. As such things go, it's a marginally more fruitful strategy than deliberately giving Croc more teeth than you were a few panels prior.
Of course, that's all we get for her from this entire event. At no point does Waid tell us what Minerva got out of this, or how, exactly, she (and Circe) got back to the real world in the first place, or why Minerva's no longer frothing, savage 'roid rage Cheetah. We can surmise pretty easily, of course; magic typically has no ontological inertia, so Asquith's spell on Cheetah (and Cassie Arnold) probably ended with his death. Thus, Circe either bamfed them somewhere on our plane of existence, or was still light-side enough once they returned to normal to bamf them both back to Earth with her when she returned; either way, they've been lying low for half a year (our time, who knows their time) somewhere on our planet. I would think WML's Cheetah would have sought Diana out first thing instead of hiding, but of course, it's not his Cheetah anymore, it's Waid-Byrne-Whoever's.
That's not actually the full extent of her contribution to "Underworld" - she also shows up in GUY GARDNER long enough to almost kill Arisia and get stuck in a fridge. No, literally in a fridge. Wildcat traps her in the bar freezer. It's got that horrid 90s Imagesqe art, though, and it's not anything meaningful or that could have had any actual influence on the character, so just a couple thumbnails for fun if you're interested.
After this random cameo, we don't actually see Dr. Minerva for another two years (again, our time). As I said, Waid doesn't tell us what she bargained for, but the implication, at first, seems to be that she got a simple speed power-up.
Even ignoring the "supernatural agency" line (really, Babs? Because she was so all about science before), this is unholy stupidity. Cheetah was already in Wonder Woman's weight class, and knows more than anyone the price of a deal with the devil for power. The idea that she'd agree to give Neron anything at all, much less her soul, in exchange for an utterly meaningless "increase" in something as irrelevant to her as combat ability is absurd.
Fortunately, Byrne knew this. So now we skip ahead to Wondy #117, wherein Mike Schorr, generic white cop and obligatory sucky potential love interest, has just asked Diana up to his room for a drink or, um, y'know, whatever comes up. Diana shoots him down with tremendous grace, class and kindness, as you would expect from her, and Mike reacts with entirely juvenile bitching and whining, as you would pretty much expect from him.
Way to prove her totally justified in not being attracted to you, Mikey-boy. I mean, I think you can say with a certain amount of confidence that anyone who would kick a cat across an alley out of pure frustration is not someone who's ever going to win Diana's heart. Her being kinda fond of animals, and everything. (Though, admittedly, she does seem to have fallen for a douchebag like Tresser, so maybe she and Mike were a great match after all.... >.<)
See? The readers demanded it. No idea how she got out of that freezer, but at the rate Warrior's got destroyed back then, she might just have walked out when the wall collapsed, assuming that cameo was even any kind of legit to begin with.
Any rate, we don't get to see the fate of Mike, here, but I'll tell you for free anyway because that's the kind of generous person I am. Somewhat tragically, he's not actually dead; he certainly doesn't stop the Cheetah, though, because practically the first page of the next issue is this:
Okay, totally feral Cheetah. Barbara Minerva is gone. If you are anything like me, you are extremely annoyed at this point. But bear with Byrne for a bit; he may yet pleasantly surprise you. Meanwhile let's wander over to Lexcorp to check out something that will make us feel much better.
Heeeeeey, it's Chuma! I missed that guy! And his flashbacky exposition. Frex, I bet he has something nice and sepia-tinted to say about the Neron thing...
Interesting little detail there - Byrne's Cheetah has that same weird animal sense that the pre-Crisis Man-Bat had. Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men? THE CHEETAH KNOWS. AND SHE'LL EAT YOUR SORRY ASS FOR IT. This, while not really explored enough to be justified, is yet another thing that could have been really interesting, and could even have been built logically off WML's Cheetah; she'll always have to kill to be the Cheetah, but if she chooses only criminals and scum as victims, especially if it's part of her attempt to be helpful to Diana, she could become an interesting mirror with which to examine Diana's own nonstandard, relatively-kill-friendly-particularly-for-DC moral code. Not to mention how fun it could be to see Diana try to deal with a "successfully reformed" villain who's totally on her side in a way that's totally unhelpful and undesirable to her.
Of course, we get none of that, because that's basically a throwaway line and Byrne is way too busy with his hundred other plots and guest stars and no Wondy writer will ever touch this concept again. But, y'know. It was an interesting thought.
See, now that's actually a deal Barbara Minerva might plausibly have made. You may speculate amongst yourselves as to how much of Chuma's resurrection was due to Minerva's selfish need for his skills and knowledge, and how much was due to a genuine frienship, however grudging (after all, the only one she had or probably ever will have). I like to think it's more the latter than the former - I get a kick out of the idea that, however abusive and demanding it is, her devotion to him matches his own to her. Makes her more interesting.
Meanwhile, Mike's sister has informed Diana that Mike didn't come home last night, and forensics found some weird claw marks outside his house, but there's no body and not enough blood for a kill, so Diana figures the Cheetah abducted him. She tracks them to the abandoned Gateway City zoo.
Sexy, no? I mean, it makes perfect mythical sense that the more control the Cheetah spirit has, the more fully and animalistically it manifests itself. But, y'know, that whole "animalistic" thing grinds my gears in the first place, so visual reinforcement naturally does too.
Anyway, they fight a whole bunch and Diana makes some noises about how she's gotten even *stronger* than before, but frankly she was plenty strong enough already; mostly I think Diana's off her game because she's slowly turning to clay. (Don't ask. No, really don't ask. Frickin' Byrne and his frickin' annoying frickin' storyarcs.) Either way, Chuma eventually interrupts.
You know, even a normal human would take longer than that to go down from lack of air, and get in a few good swipes at Diana while she went. Just say you're cutting off blood to her brain, it's much faster and works just as well on superhumans as normal folk. Seriously, ten seconds of research on Wikipedia, man. (Or, fine, twenty minutes at the library, in the pre-internet age of 1997. Look, if you're going to write martial artists on a regular basis, you should know these things, that's all I'm saying, here.)
Regardless... With the Cheetah out of commission, Diana cuts Mike down off the ceiling and Chuma solicits her help with a ritual that he hopes will save Dr. Minerva.
All else aside, I like this storyline just for this. What can I say, I'm a sucker for a good astral jaunt through someone's subconscious.
(Ignore the hand thing. It's related to the turning-to-clay thing. Not important.)
I really like Diana's outfit, here. I'd prefer shorts but the general theme is very nice.
So Diana and Tagalong-Cassidy there wander through Minerva's subconscious for a bit, fighting off various astral Cheetah manifestations until Diana realizes that's fairly pointless and tries a different tack.
Shut up, Mike.
And that's it for the Cheetah for Byrne.
So it turns out that what Byrne was doing, here, was trying to restore Perez' Cheetah. Like so much else in his run, it was a patch job, trying to sew up what he perceived WML to have mangled. WML's Cheetah may have known a thing or two about golems, but she was a mercenary, a captive and a flunky whose only real interests seemed to be battle and Diana. Byrne built a whole plotline out of reaffirming her as a proud, capable creature in her own right, a queen not a pawn with motives of her own and an intellect to be reckoned with. Diana reminds both Barbara and the audience that this kind of thing doesn't happen to Dr. Minerva. She doesn't let it. Byrne even went so far as to bring back Chuma, the essential human connection and quintessential minion who's so important to Minerva's characterization as a BBEG.
And yet, he did it in a way that integrated WML's major contribution quite handily as well; the Cheetah who only kills bad guys and turns to Diana for help is a fair extension of the one who saved Diana's life repeatedly and worked them both into a complicated history of owing each other and maybe even a wary friendship.
And further, he's anticipating any author who wants to go down the "feral Cheetah" route. Byrne's Cheetah had that fight and won it. She won't be a mindless beast. Even soulless she's still got too much brain and will for that to ever happen; she's Barbara Minerva, not the Cheetah, and she's proven it in astral freaking combat. She's all human, and has no reason and no excuse to ever act animalistic.
Obviously, this attempt didn't work on any level. It probably would have helped if he'd showed her being herself again afterward. Because, see, you read this and 90% of the Cheetah you see is the insane animal-brain one, so that's kind of what sticks with you. I mean, that's Byrne's Cheetah: a woman whose strength of mind and will is so completely insane that she kicked a god out of the driver's seat of her own body without even the benefit of a soul of her own to replace it... but not a woman we know anything else about. So in the end, because his whole story was about what the Cheetah isn't, Byrne never really told us what the Cheetah *is*, and we're left with the only thing he showed us. That being a feral nutcase.
Oh well. He gets plenty of points for trying, at least. This and Cassie are the only two things in Byrne's entire run of which I wholeheartedly and unreservedly approve. I just wish he'd had some damn follow-through.
Next up, I do my best to piece together the utter confusion of Jimenez' Sebastian Ballesteros plot. I may have to do a quick Fury rundown first just to get all the context out there. Oh, Jimenez...