[ENGLISH] This month: The Cheetah. Since the inception of The Golden Age of comics in 1938, many heroes, and many villains, have splashed their battles across artistic pages, have endured their struggles in those same pages and have intrigued a readership which has loved their adventures for 72 years. This column celebrates such characters by taking a look each month at one of them. Some you will know and some are more obscure, but all hold a significant place in comics, for the world of stories in any medium is about the characters who populate it. The spectacular citizens of the universe who inhabit the comic book nation might be brave or sinister, bold or fearful, but all are characters who we can never forget. So, The Golden Age becomes the Silver Age, The Silver becomes The Bronze and so on, until today and until tomorrow. . . in The Endless Age of comics, and the beings who live inside them.
The Beautiful Bite of The Cheetah
What makes a supervillain or supervillainess a classic? It can be analyzed and dissected of course, but what makes one timeless probably can’t be proven. One can only make an educated guess. When the Cheetah made her first appearance in Wonder Woman #6 a very strong foreshadowing of her future as one of the greatest enemies of the Amazonian princess came into view. This was because of the fact that the cat-like femme fatale died in the very first story in which she appeared but didn’t stay dead for very long.
Bringing a character back to life is a practice in comics on occasion so the fact that they brought the Cheetah back is not that shocking. What makes her return so unique and what assured the looming shadow of her threat to Wonder Woman over the decades is that she was resurrected in the same issue in a later story! Certainly she was a criminal who would not be put down for long.
Maybe the publishers reconsidered her demise during production because they sensed something about the sexy spotted feline. Maybe William Moulton Marsten, the psychologist who gave us Wonder Woman and also created Cheetah felt it was important to have her stick around. Perhaps it was the fact that her early images in her spotted cat costume and cat ears were reminiscent of the sensual pulp covers which decorated American newsstands. Whatever the reason, the villainess made it into comic history as a major enemy of one of the Big Three and those kinds of arch-villains generally refuse to go away.
Cheetah’s real name was Priscilla Rich. It was jealousy of the most powerful woman in the world which motivated her criminal behavior. After meeting Diana Prince at a charity event, she immediately disliked her and even attempted to frame her for a criminal act, unsuccessfully of course. The Cheetah was an unusual choice to be an enemy for Wonder Woman because she possessed no super powers. Like her namesake, however she was skillful with something sharp, but her bite came in the form of a dagger, one which made her a quite formidable opponent.
Perhaps her lack of powers contributed to marking her as an opposite to the Amazon warrior, a device explored in evil characters that they might be a distorted reflection of their enemies. Because of this concept, villains are often far less powerful in abilities than the heroes they threaten but still prove quite deadly. Lex Luthor has made a career out of it.
Despite her comic destiny, the Cheetah did experience a long absence from comics but true to form, the killer kitten was raised from the dead again. A murderous catlike creation, it is no surprise she has had so many lives. She was revived in Wonder Woman #274. In that issue Priscilla Rich is dying and her niece Debbi Domaine ends up taking on the Cheetah legacy courtesy of some heavy-duty brainwashing by Kobra to become the criminal creature her aunt had been. Debbi went from environmentalist to the wrong side of the law in short order. The costume changed a little too but like her aunt she still sported spots and an outfit worth a second glance for its sensual impression.
Writer Gerry Conway was the one who revived her and it is a good thing that he did. A classic character like the Cheetah could have been simply filed away with some lesser-known Golden Age creations and that would have been a shame for despite her simple design she was alluring to many readers. Wonder Woman’s rogues gallery features her prominently because those comic readers sank their teeth into her stories and they never minded the Cheetah’s habit of biting back.[James Parducci]
James Parducci is the creator of the comic series Nighthunter. He has been published in multiple periodicals and runs his own freelance writing business in San Diego.