The first photo of Wonder Woman 1984's villain has revealed what Kristen Wiig's version of Cheetah will look like. Unfortunately, it's not the animalistic form that most fans are eager to see, but it does hint that the origin story of Dr. Minerva and her journey to supervillainy will be faithful to the comics.
Fans shouldn't feel too guilty if they missed the clues, since the hints in the new photo are easy to miss altogether. Subtle as they may be, it's clear Dr. Minerva is looking for power in the same place as her comic book and novel counterpart. Magical abilities bestowed by an African god are still likely to be the source of the Cheetah's power. Even if the movie is making Dr. Minerva's journey to that terrible deity a lot more convenient.
Let's break down the clue most fans will have missed.
Dr. Minerva is Researching Africa?
At first glance, the image doesn't seem to reveal anything besides one look at Kristen Wiig's character prior to her transformation into the supervillain Cheetah. Her appearance seems to fit the stereotype of an academic, spending more time on research than fashion. Compare her to the top-tier fashion we've seen from Gal Gadot set photos filming Wonder Woman 2, and the two women will stand apart even before one becomes the film's superhuman antagonist. But for most fans, it's how Minerva transforms that is the important part of her origin story.
Looking beyond Dr. Minerva, the museum in which she stands seems fairly commonplace, as well. But the exhibits and taxidermy in the photo do have one thing in common. Whether it's a lion, a zebra, or other horned game, the animals all point to this being a museum exhibit focused on the continent of Africa. And while it's hard to tell for sure, it appears that Dr. Minerva may be looking at some type of tree (partly obscured, there appear to be tangled branches and a trunk positioned roughly in front of her).
A small lead... but one that could confirm Cheetah's powers and origin are being adapted straight from the comics.
Urzkartaga, the African Plant God
The first version of Cheetah to take on Wonder Woman was a wealthy socialite who enjoyed some costumed carpeting. But the more iconic version was introduced far more recently, drawing her powers from the god Urzkartaga. An African plant god, Urzkartaga required a woman be sacrificed regularly to act as his consort and bride. In exchange, she gained the powers of the Cheetah. A tempting deal, since the god spent most of his time in the form of a gnarled, menacing tree.
If the image of Dr. Minerva depicts her standing in front of a tree in an African museum exhibit, and she will gain her powers from a magical tree hailing from Africa, fans may be able to draw the most obvious conclusions; it calls her. After all, having the tree come to her as opposed to the other way around helps keep the screenplay efficient. It may be a bit of a change from the comics, where Dr. Minerva typically sought out the tree and deity, but the spirit is the same.
The question now becomes: how dark will the movie's version of the story go? The original legend is enticing, offering power to the woman who sacrifices herself in Urzkartaga's name. The more modern story introduced in DC's Rebirth reveals the legend is a lie, and that Dr. Minerva is forced to become her master's servant, and tortured as he pleases, forcing her to kill with little control.
We've long suspected that in claiming Wonder Woman 2 is a love story, director Patty Jenkins is referring to Diana and Barbara's sisterhood. If Dr. Minerva is desperate enough to go searching for meaning in an African relic, then she's going to need Diana's help to endure, or even reverse the curse. That dynamic was played beautifully in the Wonder Woman: Rebirth comic, with Diana refusing to hate Dr. Minerva anywhere near as much as the Cheetah hates herself.
We can't say that's the version being adapted just yet, but seeing how Cheetah presents from the outset as a dream come true... Diana's warning to be careful what you wish for may work as well on film as it did in the comics. Let's just hope that Dr. Minerva can still be saved from her voluntary imprisonment in Wonder Woman 1984, one way or another.