The Cheetah’s first post-Crisis appearance: Wonder Woman (1987) #9

When I last looked at Wonder Woman, it was to cover the first seven issues of her reboot, which contained the epic seven-part Gods and Mortals story that gave the character a much-needed reboot and established a very different background, and also introduced new and interesting supporting characters. All in all, it was a fantastic debut.

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While the first seven issues were pretty straightforward in terms of format (although writer-artist George Perez had a lot of fun messing with perception when it came to Olympus), issue #8 took on a very different tone as we were shown the aftermath via letters and journal entries written by Professor Kapatelis, her daughter Vanessa, Etta Candy (as she relayed a report to Steve), and promoter Myndi Mayer that touched on the events that took place in the Legends limited series as well as showing how Wonder Woman was acclimating to life outside Paradise Island, and how she was affecting those closest to her. All I have to say is…

…that letterer had better have been paid well for their services.

While much of the issue was in this vein, it was also interspersed with scenes of Professor Barbara Minerva arriving in the states with her sidekick/servant Chuma, both of whom had been introduced at the end of issue #7. Issue #8 in fact ends with a letter from Minerva to Diana via Mayer’s offices, claiming she’s in possession of the second girdle of Gaea and that she hopes the Amazon will contact her at her residence. It was bait for a trap so Minerva could secure Diana’s lasso, and judging by the horrific death of Tamsyn McConnell, a smuggler who had intended to blackmail Minerva and paid the consequences, the Amazon is about to face a threat unlike any she’s seen before.

Issues #9’s cover is pretty sweet, with the Cheetah on a rooftop, her claws having torn into a poster of Wonder Woman. It’s true that it’s a bit spoiler-rific, but the purpose of a cover is to be striking and to sell the comic. It was a point a lot of editors missed for a while not too long ago, with their generic covers with characters just flying around, or taking selfies, or getting their pictures taken by fans.

Our story opens with Chuma on a balcony in the moonlight as he prepares a ritual. There are drums in the air and I’m not sure if that’s poetic license, or Chuma has a record playing drums, or they’re all in his head. Considering how Dr. Minerva is slumbering on what looks like a sacrificial altar covered in leopard cheetah skin nearby, I’m guessing option #3. That, or she’s a seriously heavy sleeper. Chuma approaches the unconscious woman, imposing knife at the ready. Blood is spilled and collected into a bowl, and the drums beat in time to her heart. Tonight is the night of the Bloodfeast. Right away, I’m liking this; it shows that Minerva can’t just turn into her Cheetah form at will, that there are conditions reminiscent of lycanthropy. I also like how there are at the very least detrimental psychological consequences as well. In issue #7, Chuma said her dependence on the herb responsible for the change was an addiction, and an obsession. And it makes me wonder if her deteriorated physical state was the reason she took the herb in the first place, or the cost of her dependence. It’s not an answer that’s immediately forthcoming, but as I learned the hard way regarding Wolverine’s origin, some questions I don’t need the answers to in order to enjoy a character.

We turn the page and discover Chuma’s cut was across Minerva’s palm. He bandages it and the narration notes that by morning the wound will be healed with nary a scar. We also discover that Chuma feeds the blood to the plant in the corner. Feeding blood to a strange plant? Yeah, that never ends well.

In Wakefield, Massachusetts one week later, we find Diana (AKA Wonder Woman) flying through the air in unbridled joy. On the ground below, Diana’s flight doesn’t go unnoticed; publicist Myndi Mayer watches with an avaricious smile upon her face as she talks about Dr. Minerva’s letter and what it could mean for her client’s future. Professor Kapatelis and her daughter are standing nearby, and the former snarks that Mayer would merchandise Mother Theresa if she could. Merchandise a saint? Who would do such a soullessly capitalistic thing li—

Um… never mind, then. Mayer, unfazed, probably because she’s been verbally attacked so often due to her occupation that she’s developed a layer of psychological callouses, says the thought has occurred to her. The professor adults up and apologizes for the crack and notes she’s just worried about Diana. Mayer—of course—thinks there’s nothing to worry about; Diana is obviously happy, the money’s rolling in, her peers seem to love her, and public opinion is at an all-time high. Yup, it’s about time something came off the rails. All the same, Kapatelis did the smart thing and looked into Dr. Minerva’s background and thinks she’s “as shady as your average weeping willow”. Regardless, Diana wants to meet her and Myndi will be on hand, and Mayer points out the last thing Diana needs is a second mother. Actually, considering how naïve Diana still is, Kapatelis as a surrogate mother sure as hell isn’t a bad thing; case in point, I’m guessing Mayer didn’t bother doing a background check on Minerva due to her cash-oriented priorities.

Later that morning, Diana wears a yellow dress (although is still sporting her bracelets and tiara) and strappy sandals and she’s accompanied by Myndi up to a penthouse apartment. Diana is understandably excited, because if Dr. Minerva is telling the truth, then our heroine’s purpose in Man’s World could be sidelined by the ultimate side-quest. Who knows what kind of power ups and loot could be had? Why, maybe a teen sidekick or even an invisible jet!

Up in the penthouse, they’re greeted by both Chuma and Minerva. Barbara blows off Mayer’s talk of publicity and promotion and instead zeroes in on Diana, asking if she brought the lasso. Diana reaches into her bag and pulls it out, explaining that she’s never without her gift from the gods. Personally, I would’ve probably lost that thing after a week and needed a replacement like a mechanical owl or something. Diana naively hands the lasso over to Minerva, who begins to rush from the room, claiming that she’s got all sorts of documentation proving the veracity of her own girdle, when suddenly:

It turns out Diana has discovered the lasso has gifts she hadn’t realized until now. And she’s learned a hard lesson about trust. Diana, crushed by the fact that another woman would think to betray her, cries tears of rage. Myndi tries to talk her down, but the Amazon now realizes everything Kapatelis tried to warn her about is true; Minerva’s a snake, and Myndi’s a self-serving opportunist.

Diana takes to the skies, leaving Myndi wondering how she’s going to fix this. Later, Mayer calls the Kapatelis household in an attempt to mend fences, but Vanessa reports that her mom and Diana are outside, with the former trying to talk the latter down. Julia listens to Diana vent about how confused she is about her mission, the origin of her costume, and even her name. Julia tries to reassure Diana that things are going to work out and all she needs is time, but the Amazon is afraid time is a commodity she can’t spare. I guess I see her point; after the blinders are off regarding Mayer’s motivations, Diana’s got to wonder how much time was wasted on magazine and newspaper fluff pieces and press conferences.

That night, Chuma picks berries from the god-plant and uses a mortar and pestle to grind them into paste. All the while, Minerva applies paint to her body in the form of cheetah spots. She downs the magic brew and the effects hit her immediately.

Now that’s a sweet page. The Cheetah leaps into the night on the hunt, while Chuma stays behind, pondering how Minerva is the last of her kind, as is the plant that gives her power. Elsewhere, the Cheetah stalks through Boston’s man-made peaks and valleys as she tracks down her prey.

Meanwhile, Steve Trevor puts in a call to Etta Candy. He’s got some bad news: his father is dying and he needs to head back home to Oklahoma. Etta notes that she has some leave time coming and offers to join him and keep him company, and he truly appreciates the offer. Say, Steve is Diana’s guy, and Etta’s just a comedic sidekick; no way are these two going to hit it off with each other, right? I mean, fundamentally changing the relationships between a principal character and the supporting cast is just crazy!

Outside of town at the Kapatelis summer home, Vanessa looks for Diana but mom tells her that the Amazon is still out in the woods. Vanessa’s concerned, but Julia points out Diana’s had a pretty shitty day and needs some alone time. Besides, Diana’s a badass Amazon; what’s the worst that can happen to her? Nearby beside a lake, Diana dozes in the moonlight with a racoon on her lap. The raccoon senses danger and bolts, which wakes up Diana—

—just a second too late. A prehensile tail, eh? It must be the rare Tasmanian Cheetah. The Cheetah whips Diana into a tree which shatters on impact. She barely gives Wonder Woman a moment to think as she closes the gap with nigh-impossible speed. Claws slash, catching Diana across the upper chest, actually drawing blood. Diana flies back down to chase the Cheetah, but Minerva turns the tables on her, wrapping her tail around a tree trunk to allow her to whip around and strike Diana from behind. Soon, she’s on top of Wonder Woman, all teeth and claws.

Diana’s blow gives her a modicum of breathing space. The Amazon knows she’s only bought herself a brief respite, and to win this life-or-death contest, she has to be smart. As a daughter of Artemis, she possesses heightened senses and she uses them now. Sensing the very heartbeat of the Cheetah, she strikes.

But impossibly, the lasso’s power seems to have no effect: it’s as if some equally ancient magic renders her immune to Diana’s gift from the gods. A tug of war ensues, with neither side giving an inch, until the Cheetah changes the game and charges at Diana with her amazing speed. Diana is slammed into another tree and become pinned under its shattered trunk. The Cheetah pounces, but…

Julia Kapatelis, ladies and gentlemen. Likely the founder of the Liberal Gun Club. Diana is horrified that Julia shot the Cheetah, but our Professor wisely points out she was going to kill the Amazon. Diana tugs on her lasso, but the Cheetah has freed herself, so she dives into the lake to look for her wounded opponent. Vanessa shows up with a tennis racket, much to Julia’s frustration, but she has more important things to worry about as Diana has returned with news: The Cheetah is gone.

Several days later, Myndi is hanging out at the gym when she receives a telephone call from her assistant. The assistant’s got bad news: Diana’s heading back home. Myndi blows a fuse when she thinks of all the publicity plans that have all been ruined, screaming that Diana can’t do this to her. Oh, but she can, Myndi. She can.

In Martha’s Vineyard, Diana stands on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic as she prepares to leave. Julia and Vanessa are on hand and—

—damn, I haven’t seen a teenage girl look that tacky since Kitty Pryde in X-Men #149:

It’s funny to see how Vanessa’s gone from resenting Diana to loving her. Funny, but realistic too, because teenagers are insane and can switch moods completely without warning, going from fluffy velveteen rabbits to rabid, murderous monsters—whew! Sorry, that was my inner old man talking. Diana assures Vanessa she’ll be fine, and gives her a sisterly hug before turning her attention to her foster mother in Man’s World. There’s a tearful heartfelt goodbye between the women, and Julia gives Diana a duffel bag full of mementos to remember her time in the big old world outside Paradise Island. Diana takes to the sky…

…perhaps never to return.

Next issue: Diana returns! No, just kidding. Seriously, though, I found the sudden retreat from Man’s World to be a bit jarring back then. After only two issues and maybe a couple of months, Diana up and leaves? And Julia doesn’t talk her out of it? There are so many questions—including who/what was the Cheetah and what did she want—and Diana runs away from them. I would have thought Julia would have convinced Diana to stay and fight, and to put Mayer in the place and redefine her role. Heck, would it have been too out of place to suggest Diana engage in a series of team-ups as she gets to know other superheroes better? Imagine if she had heard Batman was the world’s greatest detective and came to him for advice regarding her name and costume. Why didn’t Maxwell Lord approach her to join the new Justice League instead of Dr. Light? Instead, what we would get after this is the Challenge of the Gods story arc, and while I love the Greek mythology stuff, we already had seven issues of it.

As for this issue, it’s solid. It’s does a good job of expanding on Minerva’s background and it showed just how badass the Cheetah is. Diana has the edge in strength and armament, but man, speed kills. After the way she was able to dispatch gods with seeming ease in earlier issues, it was actually good to see that she could be beaten. And Julia Kapatelis is by far my favorite character of the series: smart, sensible, and tough as nails. You couldn’t ask for a better role model.

Next time: I dive back into the world of cinema with a look at another fantasy classic.

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