The Many Faces of Barbara Minerva, part 6 (Versus Catwoman)
And we're back; this time with an installment so ludicrous I can't even work up any real ire for it. I'm just left shaking my head in depressed bemusement, wondering how it all went so wrong. I mean, it's not that getting Cheetah a little cross-DCU exposure is a bad thing in principle, and even the basic formula of "catwoman + cat woman = double the feline fun" does seem sensible at first, cursory glance. Enough, even, that we've seen it not once, not twice, but three times with this incarnation of Cheetah at least - very impressive considering that a) Selina's not even remotely connected to Wondy, b) she's not even really exactly a *hero* and c) barring Injustice-type "everyone and their mother who was ever a bad guy is there" crossovers, her fights with Selina are the only times Cheetah's ever gotten coverage outside Diana's book. Ever.
Of course, "cursory glance" is a pretty pathetic thing to hang a story on, and it all falls apart like a house of oversize novelty cards after the Batmobile crashes into them the second you take even a fractionally deeper look at the characters involved. But Pfeifer and Loebs never let continuity or consistent characterization stop them before, and dammit, they aren't about to now.
Last time we saw Cheetah, she was... well, she was all over the map, but the basic trend was that she was almost completely feral, a catlike melee bruiser with purely animal motivations, and a fairly minimal threat to Diana herself, good enough to put up a few minutes' fight but not, in the end, more than half an issue's worth of distraction.
This time, she's far more stable a character throughout. Depressingly, it's not a very good one. After *all* those fascinating, potential-ridden possible avenues for development, all the many diverse characterizations and paths with intriguing implications and tantalizing possibilities over the years, after all that inconsistency going from one actually-kinda-cool characterization to another, the Cheetah that finally stuck for more than ten minutes was this boring dead-end piece of crap. From here on out the differences between Cheetahs will be far more cosmetic. On the plus side, though, we do seem to have at least gotten rid of that femme fatale bullshit, so thank Coover for small favors, at least. (Seriously, Rucka, what the actual hell were you thinking? You said it yourself, she's Diana's dark mirror! Cheetah as a femme fatale makes about as much sense as Bizarro as a pimp!)
(... and now I really want to see Bizarro in a feather hat and pimp cane.)
Anyway, this chapter's Cheetah hails from roughly the same time period as the last, starting from CATWOMAN #46, just a few months before Rucka's Cheetah ish. The context is, Selina has set herself up as protector of the East End of Gotham, and a small contingent of random black hats, led by Captain Cold and then later Hugo Strange, have decided she'd be easier to deal with than Bats and ergo her territory is ripe for the picking.
Selina tracks Cold to his lair, and he offers her the usual "join us or die" spiel.
Note the feline shape of that first shadow. Yup, that's none other than our very own Barbara Minerva. Who apparently is now... interested in "territory"? In Gotham of all places?
Our dear Selina's no dope, at any rate, and figures she's way outgunned and can do more damage from the inside, so she agrees to join up.
I used to have a clever comment here about Pfeifer and my general satisfaction level with his treatment of Wondy franchise characters, but under the new Kinder, Gentler S_D rules I will simply limit myself to saying that he shouldn't be allowed to write them, ever.
I mean, just a reminder for everyone, the woman who Cheetah regularly trades punches with:
So, I can cope with Bats sneaking up on her, from the front, even though she's got enhanced senses and ought to be able to both hear and smell him from a mile away - he *is* Batman, and he can apparently sneak up on freaking kryptonians, so why not Cheetah. But Bruce Wayne, mundane human, cold-cocking Cheetah with a single punch? Cheetah who is more resistant to damage than solid steel? It's more ludicrous than I even have words for. Seriously, can you imagine Bats doing that to Mongol, or the Ultra-Humanite, or Grodd? Or hell, Sinestro? Ever? He wouldn't even be allowed to one-punch his own majors, your Ivys and Two-Faces and Jokers, even though those are characters who aren't known for fighting and believably would go down to a single well-placed blow. I mean, I know he also did it to Circe once, but guess who wrote that idiotic story too. Sigh.
And what does Batman-who-punches-harder-than-Wondy do with his unconscious foe?
... yes. Yes, handcuffs around a metal pole would definitely effectively restrain a woman who can burst manacles by flexing her fists and gouge metal with her claws. I believe this scenario entirely. It is utterly plausible to me that the one member of Wonder Woman's rogues' gallery who's known for being her physical match could be tamed by such meager restraints.
No, wait, I said that wrong, plausible isn't the word... "completely Goddamn moronic," that's what I meant. I always get those two confused.
Now, apparently at some point Pfeifer was made to understand, at least partly, how fucking stupid this is, because he makes Cheetah a bit more durable in her and Catwoman's second encounter, when they meet up on Planet Australia in the whole "Salvation Run" thing. (Or more accurately, when Cheetah ambushes Catwoman.)
Pfeifer has a real fascination with people one-punching Cheetah, doesn't he? At least this time it basically works (ignoring Cheetah's suggestion that Bats could protect Selina from her), because that's J'onn masquerading as Blockbuster, and J'onn actually *is* in Cheetah's weight class in melee combat.
Selina wanders away, runs into the Flash rogues, runs into the Gotham rogues and gets a cigar from the Joker, and gets found by Cheetah and J'onn again.
In CATWOMAN, see, Cheetah is working for Luthor. I give Pfeifer some credit in that this actually makes a reasonable amount of sense. In the SALVATION mini, she's part of Vandal's harem, which makes no damn sense at all. But that mini was basically an elseworlds even before Morrison unilaterally declared all of Countdown non-canon, so we're going to ignore it completely and be the happier for it.
Again with the "you're not a real cat" stuff. Remember how I said that it was a mistake for WML to make the Cheetah her "true form" and give that animal form all the important, intellectual, human aspects that had previously belonged to Barbara Minerva? This is why.
See, if "Barbara Minerva" is her default, real shape, and "the Cheetah" is a tool she uses, then there's a good chance writers will think of her as Barbara Minerva, and treat her like a Barbara Minerva - like a human, someone who's intelligent, capable of conversation and relationships and plans and schemes, with desires and interests and history and grudges and all that makes up a three-dimensional character.
If "the Cheetah" is her default, real shape, and "Barbara Minerva" is just some name she used to go by, then writers will think of her as a cheetah, and treat her like a cheetah - like an animal, something that's feral and stupid and driven entirely by instinct and hunger, little more than a savage brute with more than usual cunning. I have come to understand that this is inevitable - no animalistic character can ever survive more than two or three writers as an intelligent being, they all inevitably devolve into barely-sentient tanks. It's like some kind of cultural creative block. Beast is the closest to a success I can think of, and I've still come across a lot of stories where the Doctor in "Doctor Hank McCoy" is nowhere in evidence.
As long as Professor Minerva was Professor Minerva, she had a chance of bucking this trend. Make her Cheetah full-time and... well, this is where you end up.
If I were feeling charitable, I might assume that that was Barbara Minerva's adventurous spirit in action, diving boldly into the unknown. Pretty sure, though, that we're just meant to think she's being stupid.
Yup, rank stupidity, there. Though unlike Selina, she doesn't get her brain stuck in the machine and end up fantasizing about wiping out the Justice League for three issues, so maybe she was the clever one after all. At any rate, they meet up again in 78.
If you're anything like me, you're wondering why Selina is still alive at this point, since Minerva's never really been the type to play with her food, and all she's gotta do right now to finish Catwoman off is curl her fingers. If you're smarter than me, though, you'll remember that Pfeifer is writing this, and have a much better idea what to expect.
Selina just broke the Cheetah's arm, there. Thought I'd point it out, because the sheer ridiculousness of it as a concept might have led you to misinterpret that panel.
More important, though, is the implied threat behind her plan of action here - an outright sadistic intention for Selina to be tortured/raped/ripped apart by other baddies. That goes beyond even the VU-era Cheetah's enjoyment of inflicting suffering with her own two claws, to a whole new level of blatant malevolence.
Minerva's secret weakness: a small rock. Why didn't Diana ever think of that?
Good to see that somebody in Diana's cast is upholding her proud bondage and fetish traditions.
Minerva's secret fear: a small phallic object. At least we know why Diana's never thought of that...
And then they get attacked by parademons and then everybody goes home and, presumably, comes down of the goofballs that they're all huffing that led to those permanent lunatic smiles there.
Now you might be tricked into thinking that this is remotely reasonable, given the fact that it takes a multi-story fall and an exploding cigar to actually put her down this time. But let's review some small facts from previous posts, shall we? Diana, who can very nearly keep up with a Flash, thinks that the Cheetah is fast. Diana, who can take a sword to the gut like most of us would take a bruise and survive exploding buildings, thinks a cut from the Cheetah is painful. Diana, who regularly tussles with Superman, is routinely beaten bloody in combat with the Cheetah. Superman, who, um, is Superman, has been taken out by the Cheetah. And at this point in canon, Cheetah has *learned super-speed from Zoom.*
The only possible explanation I can come up with?* Selina is secretly an alpha-class meta who simply chooses never to punch through brick walls because it's gauche. Who knew?
So that's Pfiefer's Cheetah, who is actually pretty important - because, as I said, her appearances with Catwoman are the only significant ones she's ever had outside of the main Wondy title. One of a whole page full of characters in a Society of Supervillains type thing doesn't make much impression on the average reader, but with a full storyarc, you actually get a little familiar with a character and start to form an impression of who they are. And if you've never read any WONDER WOMAN and pick up your idea of Cheetah from other DCU stuff, this is what you get; a feral stupid brute with no apparent motivation, a mild fixation on all things feline, and a constitution and combat skill approximately advanced enough to survive getting hit in the head with a small rock.
If you want to see more of this Cheetah - and of course you do, who wouldn't? - there's actually one more instance of Cheetah-Catwoman interaction that fits right in with Pfeifer's work, and in fact may be the foundation upon which Pfeifer built his spastic little kitty. From approximately one year previous to Pfeifer's first outing, I give you Jeph Loeb's WHEN IN ROME, a Catwoman story of dubious canonicity that has Selina trying, among other things, to steal a mafia artifact from the Vatican.
Naturally Cheetah is there.
See? Bad puns and obsession with the cat thing. Same take on the charatcter. Love that Tim Sale, though, I have to say.
Anyway, this Cheetah is a bit more of the fighter you'd expect, and handily kicks the crap out of Selina off-panel, before tying her up and hanging her from a bridge in the Plaza. (Selina blames her unconsciousness on drugged claws, but I'm thinking the whole tail around the windpipe might have been more of a contributing factor.)
There's really a kind of special irony in using the epithet "bitch" on a cat, I should think.
Selina's mafia friend shoots Cheetah with a tranq. Selina and the mafia guy then argue about him interrupting her interrogation for a second, at some point during which they look down and notice Cheetah's gone. She doesn't show up again until the climactic final fight, when it turns out she's there at the Riddler's behest (don't ask, it's Loeb).
Interesting statement by Cheetah, there, since their last fight actually ended with Catwoman strangling her with her own tail, which seems to me an awful lot like Selina winning.
And, um, I know I said I love Tim Sale, but he really falls down here on the visual storytelling, because that panel is the last we see of Cheetah, and it sure doesn't look like that was a takedown hit, but apparently it was.
So, same Cheetah as Pfeifer's, if a marginally better combatant; she's got traces of the WML Cheetah as far as the loyal merc thing and the intelligence and cadence of her initial banter go, but she's still the cat-identifying pushover with no apparent motivation apart from being a "bad guy," who picks a fight with Catwoman basically just because and is a basically fair match for her in combat.
Now, obviously the physical stuff is a serious issue, but let's take a second look at the whole "stupid, feral, acts-before-she-thinks and driven by basic impulses" thing as well. Because you might actually say, hey, this is character development; the woman's infested by a cat-god, it makes sense that over time she should become more feral, that her story should become one of internal struggle against the beast within. It's a completely plausible direction for her character to move in. It's even consistent with where Perez himself seemed to be taking her before War of the Gods, and while Byrne did his best to make it seem beyond unlikely for the character, it's still not impossible.
And to that I say, yes. It's true. If it had been done halfway rationally, it could have been a logical arc. But it would still be bad writing.
Because not only does it devolve a unique character into a tired reiteration of a completely exhausted, uninteresting trope, it also commits the more grievous sin of stunting storytelling. When Cheetah was still Barbara Minerva, brilliant planner and accomplished scientist, there were a million ways for her to genuinely challenge Wondy - or any other hero in her weight class, for that matter. There were stories to be told about Amazon artifacts and tangled Amazon history, about nefarious schemes and suspicious offers of aid, about lost civilizations and forgotten magic, about attempts at rescue and uncomfortable debts and sudden but inevitable betrayals. And scheming. So much beautiful, beautiful scheming, the cunning of a cat against the wisdom of a goddess.
Take away Barbara Minerva, leave only the Cheetah, and you've pointlessly slammed the door on a million stories. You've strangled future creativity and prematurely aborted limitless plot threads in favor of a mere two: Cheetah is savage and attacks people, particularly Diana, or, if you get really creative, Cheetah doesn't want to be savage and Diana tries to help. You've made her a mook. No one cares about a mook, people. Organic character development or not, a million stories is always better than two. Particularly in an open medium like mainstream superhero comics.