The Many Faces of Barbara Minerva, part 5 (Rucka & Villains United)
It's kind of odd to say, but up till this point, the Cheetah has actually had a certain consistency to her. I mean, obviously, in four different chapters we've had four completely different characters, but every different take on Barbara Minerva has actually followed pretty reasonably from the one before, enough that you can actually trace a coherent thread of development through the whole thing - you can see where WML got his reluctant ally from in Perez, you can track Jimenez' calm mastermind to Byrne's deliberate restoration. There have been wild shifts in character, yes, but nothing truly out of left field (Boy!Cheetah excepted, but he doesn't reflect on Minerva herself). You can always pretty much figure where any given emphasis sprang from.
Yeah, that was apparently too good to last.
Last we saw Barbara Minerva, she was dead.
Obviously it didn't stick.
To see what she's up to, though, we turn not to Diana's title but, surprisingly, to Gail Simone and the Secret Six, for a few scattered panels about her involvement with the Society (this isn't the Cheetah's next appearance by publish date, but it is the first part of this story chronologically, because crossovers are messy like that). First, she gets a panel of the recruitment montage.
Dunno what's going on here. If she's bloodlusted or out for sacrifice to sustain her transformation, she should be killing people, in accordance with the Cheetah's cannibalistic spiritual impulses. If she's just hungry you'd think she'd send Chuma out for a basket of chips or something.
Any rate, obviously she joined up, and later on she's part of the first assault on the Secret Six.
That's some very vernacular battle taunting there for a wealthy, sophisticated, snobtastic professor, but no worse than WML, I suppose, and certainly funnier.
Slicing bits out of Blake isn't the only task the Society has for her, of course. Her next job is to go break Zoom out of Iron Heights in Keystone, which she does quite handily. And then they go to Boston, for some reason.
Okay, as much as the rest of this annoys me, that's truly inspired. She's contemptuous of his blood, even. It will "suffice." Oh, Sebastian. I guess you weren't ready for those big boy pants yet after all.
Notice how she repeats herself there? Her sentence structure and cadence here is deliberately primitive and unnatural, the same fragmented, repetitious style of speech used for savage space aliens, murdering chimeras, and half-sentient science experiments. That mode of dialogue is used in fiction to designate creatures that are feral, not quite all there, and driven by instinct, impulse and base emotion - it's the opposite of the precision diction usually given to the clever, charismatic and deceptive. Prior to this, Minerva has never sounded like that in either form - she's always been perfectly eloquent or dead silent.
Also, a giant eyeroll at this whole plot device. The very first time they fought, Diana was shocked by how fast the Cheetah is. Diana is a bullet-timer. The only thing faster than her is a Flash or a kryptonian, and when it comes to combat specifically, she's actually faster than even Clark. If she thinks Cheetah is fast, then Cheetah's already at a speed that nothing human can follow. If an "upgrade" that she doesn't actually need is what it takes for writers to get the point that she's fucking deadly, though, I guess I can roll with that... not that this stuck past VU anyway, of course.
More on that "people like us" thing in a couple posts. For now, let's just focus on the fact that she's apparently hitting on him here. Because "intellectual upper-class middle-age professor wracked with crippling, constant, unbearable pain as a result of being deemed sexually unfaithful by a jealous patron" just totally screams "femme fatale."
Anyway, the Iron Heights security cameras caught Minerva at her work, so Wally wanders over to the Embassy to consult with the expert.
No, she's not known for playing well with others. Except for Chuma and Angle Man and the Widow Sazia and Diana herself and, oh, those Khunds she freed from a metahuman prison back in the day. Totally strange behavior for her, springing Zoom. Sigh. And her old stomping grounds are actually England. She spent, like, a day in Boston once when she stole Diana's lasso, and about a week in Asquith's basement, and that's the extent of her familiarity with the city. And I wouldn't call "greed and power" a particularly accurate assessment either; "greed and curiosity" covers Perez better, "anger and honor" WML, and "self-preservation" Byrne and Jimenez. But, you know, why be correct when you can be generic and lazy?
The rest of this scene, and all the rest of the Wondy-Flash interaction in this ish, just makes me want to put nails through someone's skull - my own, Geoff Johns', his editors, I'm not picky - so we'll skip back to Zoom and Cheetah as they run amok like the motiveless plot devices they are.
Oh, goody, just what this story needed. A bastard continuity snarl remnant of Time-Travelling Wonder!Polly. Dammit, Byrne. And notice that while she's speaking slightly more normally now, Cheetah's still all over with the sentence fragments and repetition/clarification.
Off they go to Priscilla's house, at any rate, and Minerva murders the ninety-year-old woman quite thoroughly, which magically breaks the psychological block she never had before this issue. Diana and Wally get there much too late to stop her, but still in good time to be ambushed.
Aw, Hunter wants to trade.
Always with the tail. She should grease that thing before combat.
As a general rule, I adore Drew Johnson, but I really have no idea what's going on with his Cheetah in that bottom panel. Also, very talkative Minerva we've got here, isn't she? And we're completely back with that stilted animalistic speech pattern - third person, even.
Notice how her left hand is all naked and weird there? Like the Demeter-as-Artemis thing, this was part of something Rucka meant to explore in more depth until it got truncated by the Crisis. As is, without that further development, it's just random, distracting weirdness. In this case, though, I'll actually take that over elaboration, because apparently that was meant to be a further punishment imposed on Minerva by a jealous Urzkartaga for some further "indiscretion," which... is not how Cheetah, or Urzkartaga, or Minerva work. At all.
Sweet Chtuhlu, Rucka, stop that! Minerva is not a femme fatale! There is nothing flirty or seductive about her, there never has been! Where on 52 Earths is this coming from?
Well, that's the end of that.
Meanwhile elsewhere, Diana has taken down Zoom, because she's cool like that.
Zoom's really an impossible character to deal with, isn't he? If he can actually move them away so fast that neither Diana nor Wally can see to follow (or stop time, same difference really), there is no way he could ever lose a fight.
... Did Barbara Fucking Minerva just call someone "Baby"?
Anyway, Johns and Rucka having established the Cheetah as a recruitment officer, she pops up doing the same in various other books around the DCU. Here's her going after Bizarro, for example.
She appears to have picked up Zoom's vocal tic, here, so clearly she got her speed back. Nothing new to note apart from that; she's still got that crude animalistic speech pattern, she's still being a sexpot, and she's still being described as a power-hungry sociopath. In other words, still nothing whatsoever like any Cheetah who's ever come before.
There is one rather weird exception to her sudden feral persona, though, in BIRDS OF PREY, when she's part of the group that tries to recruit Black Alice. (This bit is from after the OYL jump, but clearly belongs to the Society!Cheetah portrayal, from the vocal tic to taking orders from Talia, so it gets filed here.)
Oh, yes, did I mention we appear to have hit the perma!Cheetah barrier somewhere in here? How the hell that happened and when is a mystery for the ages, but frankly even if it were on-panel and not just an arbitrary out-of-nowhere bit of nonsense, it was a really bad fucking idea. More on that next chapter, though. I'm complaining about enough else here as it is.
"Cheetah, Gleeful Child-Killer" is more than a little unjustified, and a particularly excessive shade of the utterly annoying "indiscriminately homicidal sociopath" thing this Cheetah has going. But, note that the Zoom vocal tic is gone and she's speaking not just like a normal human, but mostly in the full, fairly formal English appropriate to Dr. Minerva, and that she's both insightful and fairly amiable here. Which is very weird in the context of the rest of this.
Because, among other things, it appears to only last as long as Faust's glamour.
Mostly she just stands around being the silent muscle in this scene - gone is the authority she had with Zoom and Bizarro - but she does get to almost kill Dinah.
See what I mean? Now that she's furry again, we're back to half-feral-animalistic-threats repeats-herself Cheetah - this is pretty exactly the same creature that was fighting Flash before.
And then Lori pwns everybody and that's the last we hear of that.
So, a moment to recap the general trend of Society!Cheetah, as seen across multiple titles:
She's making sacrifices to Urzkartaga again, which is incredibly strange, because now that she's perma!Cheetah she's got no reason whatsoever to do so (also, where the hell is Chuma if she is?). It's possible she renegotiated the contract as part of getting her powers back, giving herself permanent access, but after what happened to her in Byrne's run, she'd have to be much stupider than she is to leave herself no option to turn human again. Beyond that, there's no longer much to her; she's become a pure melee bruiser type, solely interested in food and sex, with a possible side of more power in order to more easily accumulate food and sex (neither of which she's remotely picky about). However, she's not even that *good* of a bruiser, because she needed what Zoom could teach her in order to "unlock" her full power and actually be competitive with Flash or Diana. She's a creature of impulse and instinct, speaking and acting pretty much as she thinks. However, she *does* seem to have a certain amount of cunning, enough that she can be trusted to lead some missions - she was trusted with Zoom and Bizarro, in fact, who are totally detached from reality and therefore very difficult to manage. And apparently she's still capable of acting human when she looks human, so she's either got a really *really* strange psychological block going or she's just choosing to be a feral spaz all the time.
And now that we've established all that, we get a special treat - this post is actually a two-fer in terms of Cheetah portrayals. Because not only does Barbara Minerva come across vastly differently from one author to the next, she's even sometimes two entirely different people in the space of a single writer's run. See, Rucka's not done with her; we see Cheetah again in WONDER WOMAN, eight issues later, as a free agent, acting almost completely unlike the Johns-Rucka-Simone-Verheiden kitty we just saw. (I assume this Cheetah is much closer to Rucka's preferred take, since it's the one he had more time for and control over, so I'll be referring to it that way.)
Come, then, as we visit the Hague, where Diana is "in custody" after the Max Lord thing. (Don't worry about the dialog, I cropped it all because it's irrelevant and distracting. We're here for Cheetah's narration.) Cheetah kills some guys, all "They prayed for mercy, but they should know better, gods don't believe in mercy."
This is much closer to a recognizable Cheetah, for the moment, though the "innocent flesh" line is a bit weird. I mean, look at her kill history:
Perez Cheetah killed Leavens coldly, mercilessly and without remorse. She wasn't even the Cheetah then. Her next victims were armed warriors attacking Urzkartaga's tribe, and she was doing her work as its guardian. The pain she speaks of didn't even start until after that. Subsequent victims that we know of were armed evil amazons who were trying to kill her, and criminals - likely more out of a desire to keep a low profile than any moral considerations, but the fact remains that "innocence" is clearly not a prerequisite for a valid sacrifice to Urzkartaga.
WML Cheetah didn't even need to make sacrifices. She did work as a hitman, but her boss was a mobster who fought other mobsters. You wouldn't hire someone as powerful (read: "expensive") as the Cheetah to take out anyone who qualified as an innocent.
Byrne Cheetah could *sense* corruption and went out of her way to *only* kill the guilty.
Jimenez Cheetah probably did kill quite a few innocents, but he wasn't actually her. Minerva didn't kill anybody in Jimenez' run, unless it was through collateral damage from the fight at the end.
Minerva's always been very methodical and sparing with her kills - no more than she has to, no one who'll be missed. And outside of the moment of the kill itself, she's never been particularly pleased or perturbed by the necessity either way. She's a Sinestro, a Luthor, not a Joker. (You can tell, because if she were really that feral, she'd be dead. See also: Medousa, Drakul Karfang, the sons of Ares and Poseidon, Maxwell Lord, Randolph Asquith, and assorted hecatoncheries, hydras and other creatures of myth).
Other than that, though, this is *way* more accurate than the Society stuff. Particularly that line about her believing in herself. Which is going to be a bitter irony in a minute.
This is also a bit weird. Diana and Barbara's relationship is far more complicated by now than simple jealous hatred, if it was ever that way. And we're seeing more emphasis on that inane, foundationless ZOMG SEX KITTEN! idiocy. Still, nothing blatantly inconsistent with prior runs yet, and in fact the "dark mirror" stuff brings us right back to Perez.
Next we get a couple of pages of flashback, where Minerva recounts the tale of her gaining the Cheetah power, with added sexualization and slight retcons, explaining that she's being punished for her sin of greed. She then bitches childishly and inaccurately for a couple of pages about how Diana *isn't* ever punished for her sins, and how they'll probably give Diana a medal for killing Max, but if it were Cheetah they'd already be warming up the needles for a lethal injection.
Did you catch that? Because it was important. "Not solely for my own pleasure, but for the pleasure of my husband and god."
This is crushingly wrong. Perez' Cheetah bowed to no one - she was a mastermind, a superior force in her own right, who demanded the power of a god for herself, and when Circe tried to compel her obedience and fealty Minerva did everything in her power to destroy her. WML's Cheetah was consistently in someone else's service, but never subservient, even to Diana. Byrne's Cheetah made a deal with the devil and came out on top. Jimenez' Cheetah (well, Minerva) stole and manipulated the power of a god in order to get her other god-powers back.
This is not a woman who *worships* anyone or anything. This is not a woman who does anything for the pleasure of anyone but herself. She'd have to think something else had more value or virtue than she herself does in order to bow to it, and that's just never going to happen. Urzkartaga has always been a tool for her, one she was perfectly content to toss casually in the dumpster once Circe gave her a better way to transform. We didn't see the plant-god even once after she stopped needing him, and when Ballesteros popped up we didn't hear boo about her wanting Urzkartaga back, just the Cheetah power that she feels entitled to (not thankful for).
Ignoring that, giving Barbara Minerva a profound devotion to the needs and desires of someone or something else, is not only an unjustified and totally unsupported retcon, it's a major disservice to the character. Minerva's fierce self-interest, her independence and refusal to admit to any imperative other than her own, is the driving force of her whole personality, the only (up to this point) truly consistent thing about her. Even in WML's run she befriended Diana out of a *refusal* to be obligated to her or allow Diana the superior position of rescuer. Minerva is her own woman, a manipulator and master, not a follower, the dream of female autonomy gone wrong, and if you take that away you destroy the only persistently compelling thing about her.
Oh, indiscriminately homicidal sociopath Cheetah, how thoroughly boring you are and how completely you fail to live up to your own history.
That's more like it. She's calm and coherent, even eloquent, Cheetah form or otherwise, until she actually starts fighting, at which point the bloodlust hits and she goes *silent* and *savage.* (But still eloquent about that savagery in the privacy of her own head!) That's a throwback all the way to Perez, and significantly superior to this "animalistic slavering and sexualized taunting" nonsense.
Ugh, and he kills it again. Subservient, slavish, begging Cheetah. Ugh ugh ugh.
Even beyond the ridiculousness of Cheetah-the-devoted-wife, though, I think my big problem with Rucka is that he's just so completely *simplistic* about her. He spells out explicitly in text what Perez was classy enough to show with actual *plot* - that the Cheetah is Diana's dark mirror, that she's alone where Diana has friends, that she's in pain and angry while Diana is blessed and loving. You know, stuff we've known for twenty years. He ignores every single development by the writers between himself and Perez (in fact, he didn't even care to read them), and just goes back to the very beginning... but in an entirely tell-don't-show way that captures none of what actually made *that* version great either. This Cheetah just kills some people for fun and tries to kill Diana. And gets taken down in four pages, which is less time than it takes Diana to flatten an OMAC. Or the freaking Silver Swan, even. You can talk about how she's just like Diana all you like, but if you don't have her act with some intelligence and purpose and be the leader, schemer, deadly warrior and curious explorer that she was originally designed as to *fit* that designation, then your comparison reads meaningless and false. Particularly when you go so far as to actively rob her of her confidence and autonomy.
It's especially disappointing because I *know* Rucka's so much better than that, and he did so incredibly well with Diana herself. There was so much here he could have worked with, built up and made awesome, and instead he gutted her. This Cheetah is totally uninteresting and certainly not worthy of Diana (especially Rucka's Diana). She's weak, in combat and in personality; she's totally unjustified and just as inconsistent with what came before as the worst of WML or Waid's work; she's a simple feral savage even when she's speaking halfway rationally. It's the polar opposite of an insightful take on the character.
And I still don't know what the fuck that femme fatale nonsense was all about.
A final note on this chapter - The coolest thing about reposting this World of Wondy stuff has been the epic fanwanking that's come out of it... particularly the Cheetah posts. I mentioned in the first chapter that the Cheetah's portrayal has been completely schizophrenic over the years, but we (and by "we" I mean mostly arrlaari with some support work by a small handful of others) have actually managed to come up with a Grand Unified Theory of Cheetahs that makes *all* of this make sense and flow rationally. (At least up to current, there's some stuff still in the air until the Genocide arc is over.)
However, I'm doing this series from an as-is perspective, working solely from what's on the page and what I know of the meta behind it. And this is the point at which things have gotten bad - continuity and character logic are just out the window - thus I will not be shy in pointing out where appropriate. That we can make this all make sense with enough effort and creativity and totally outside suppositions doesn't excuse the fact that we have to in the first place.
Next up, somewhat less annoying but possibly even more stupid: Cheetah as portrayed by Pfeifer, with bonus Jeph Loeb. Because apparently the purpose of this series was to torture myself and then spread the pain to you.