The Cheetah, one of Wonder Woman’s most fearsome villains, was once an eco-terrorist. Fans today know Cheetah as Doctor Barbara Minerva, an archaeologist who was transformed into the Cheetah, but there have been several different versions of the character. One of them was Deborah Domaine, a young environmental activist (and niece of the original Cheetah) who underwent a villainous transformation and used her new powers to carry out acts of eco-terrorism.
The Cheetah is one of Wonder Woman’s oldest foes, first appearing in 1943, just two years after Wonder Woman’s debut. Originally Priscilla Rich, a spoiled debutante who was upstaged by Wonder Woman, this version would tangle with Wonder Woman over the years before retiring to her mansion. While Minerva would ultimately become DC’s most famous Cheetah – with abilities and motivations more tied to the mythological aspects of Wonder Woman’s lore – it’s actually Rich from whom the eco-terrorist incarnation is descended. In Wonder Woman #274 from December 1980, writer Gerry Conway and artist Jose Delbo introduce readers to Domaine. Wealthy like her aunt, she becomes an environmental crusader and actually befriends Wonder Woman.
After visiting her aunt, who she was not aware was the original Cheetah, Domaine is kidnapped by operatives of KOBRA, a terrorist organization in the DC Universe, and subjected to intense brainwashing. KOBRA had been trying for years to recruit her aunt to the organization, but she had always refused, so KOBRA’s leader decided on the next best thing: her niece. Now fully conditioned to be a killing machine, KOBRA’s leader christens her the new Cheetah, and instructs her to “fill the world with terror.” This version of the character would fight Wonder Woman several times in the years that followed, but was ultimately erased out of existence after Crisis on Infinite Earths. Barbara Minerva was introduced as the new Cheetah then, with this new continuity establishing that Domaine was no longer an actual person – just an alias used by Minerva to commit crimes.
Compared to other versions of the villain, Domaine’s tenure as the Cheetah was brief. Yet like the other versions, her story had a tragic overtone: she became an environmental activist to make a difference, but a madman twisted that desire into something evil – and all because she happened to be related to the original Cheetah. Her humanity was stripped away from her, and she was forced into the life of a killing machine. Still, DC may have forgotten Domaine as an individual, but her legacy lives on. The most recent version of the character in recent years has shown an interest in ecological concerns, and that started with the Deborah Domaine version of the Cheetah. While her current out-of-continuity status will prevent her from returning to the pages of Wonder Woman anytime soon, she still had a huge impact on who Cheetah is as a villain, despite her brief run.