REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS CHEETAH FIGURE
Think Catwoman is the baddest femme feline in the DC Universe? Well, she may be the best known, but there's another who's gone a lot further with the cat-look. Her name is CHEETAH, and she's one of the entries in Series 13 of Mattel's astounding line of DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS action figures.
There are actually two distinct Cheetah figures available, and one of them may well have a variant, although I have yet to see it for myself, apart from online photos when the wave was being announced and discussed, so for the moment, I'm going to leave that one as speculation.
The two Cheetah characters made as action figure are the Golden Age Cheetah, a woman named Priscilla Rich, who was the first Cheetah, and Barbara Minerva, the modern Cheetah. Both are primarily adversaries of Wonder Woman. This review will focus on the modern-day Cheetah, which was the one that I wanted, but the overall background of the Cheetah character does require that we include some mention and backstory of the original.
Commonly regarded as the archenemy of Wonder Woman, the Cheetah first appeared in 1943 in Wonder Woman #6 (volume 1), written by Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston. Since then, the character has undergone several updates as comic book continuities have evolved and shifted. Indeed, there have been four different Cheetahs since the character's premiere, including Priscilla Rich (the Golden Age Cheetah), Deborah Domaine (the Silver Age Cheetah), Barbara Ann Minerva (the modern age and current Cheetah), and Sebastian Ballesteros (a male usurper who briefly assumed the role in 2001).
Prior to the 12-issue DC Comics series Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, there were two women who donned spotted cat costumes to fight Wonder Woman as the Cheetah: socialite Priscilla Rich and her niece Deborah Domaine. While modern incarnations of the Cheetah would possess superhuman powers, Rich and Domaine did not.
The first woman to become the Cheetah, in Wonder Woman #6 (October 1943), was Priscilla Rich, a 1940s-era blonde Washington, D.C. debutante of aristocratic upbringing who also had an overwhelming inferiority complex and suffered from a split personality. After being eclipsed by Wonder Woman at a charity event, Priscilla retreated to her room and collapsed before her makeup mirror. There she saw an image of a woman dressed like a cheetah. "Horrors!" she cried, as she gazed at her evil inner self for the first time. "Don't you know me?" replied the reflection. "I am the REAL you — the Cheetah — a treacherous, relentless huntress!" The image commanded her to fashion a Cheetah costume. "From now on," intoned the reflection, "when I command you, you shall go forth dressed like your TRUE self and do as I command you..."
Priscilla was a member of Villainy Inc., a criminal association between several of Wonder Woman's female foes.
Priscilla had several run-ins with Wonder Woman before retiring to her North Shore Maryland mansion. In Wonder Woman #274 (Dec. 1980), the villain Kobra attempted to recruit the villainess for his organization. His operative found the reclusive Priscilla an invalid. Priscilla's niece Deborah Domaine had come at her bidding, and the operative stayed to observe. Before Priscilla could unburden her alter ego as the Cheetah, she died.
The original Cheetah, Priscilla Rich, was established as still existing post-Crisis when Queen Hippolyta became the Golden Age Wonder Woman. In the present, she was seen as an elderly woman when she was murdered by Barbara Minerva (the Modern Age Cheetah; see below). It was also established that she had never become an invalid post-Crisis, as Minerva mentioned how Priscilla had written books condemning her when she became the Cheetah. Rich was murdered in her home by Minerva, under the urging of Zoom. Zoom theorized that if Minerva killed Rich, she would solidify herself as the one true Cheetah and thus be a better villain.
The third Cheetah is British archaeologist Dr. Barbara Ann Minerva. Born as the heiress of a vast fortune in the ancient family site in Nottinghamshire. Ambitious, selfish, and severely neurotic, Barbara developed a passion for archaeology that eventually led her to search out a tribe in Africa who utilized a female guardian with the powers of a cheetah. A band of marauders killed the guardian and most of what remained of her original expedition party. Then Barbara, with the aid of the priest, Chuma, the caretaker of the ancient plant god Urtzkartaga, took her place after being told that she would gain immortality. Her powers were conferred to her by ingesting a combination of human blood and the berries or leaves of Urzkartaga. Unfortunately for Minerva, the host of the Cheetah persona was supposed to be a virgin. Minerva was not, so her transformations were part curse and part blessing, as she experienced severe pain and physical disability while in her human form and blood-thirsty euphoria while in her cat form.
This version of the Cheetah came into Wonder Woman's world when Barbara discovered that Diana possessed the Lasso of Truth. As an anthropologist Barbara came to covet the lasso in the hopes to add it to her collection of historical items. She first attempted to do so through trickery, claiming that there was a matching ancient Golden Girdle of Gaea of the same kind from which the lasso was fashioned. Unfortunately, although the scheme proceeded far enough for Minerva to hold the lasso, its magical power to make people tell the truth forced her to confess her true intentions. Diana, profoundly distraught that a fellow woman would be so treacherous, took back the lasso and returned home in tears. With the subtle approach having failed, Minerva later resorted to attacking the Amazon as the Cheetah to rob her of the lasso and their initial battle ensued with inconclusive results considering Diana's friend, Julia Kapatelis, shot the Cheetah and forced her to retreat.
Over the years, Barbara's interest in the lasso waned and she became more interested in besting Diana in battle due to her bruised ego. The two's rivalry has fluctuated at times, though. Wonder Woman saved the Cheetah's life during an adventure in the Balkan country of Pan Balgravia. The country's dictator Baron Von Nastraed, for unknown reasons, chose to aid a demon named Drax by capturing a powerful metahuman woman. The captive woman's body would be used to house Drax's alternate dimension bride Barremargux. When the Baron captured the Cheetah for this purpose Wonder Woman traveled to the country to save her. At the last moment when Barremargux was about to enter the DC dimension, Barbara closed the gateway before the crossing could be completed by jumping into the gateway instead. Barbara was trapped in this demonic dimension until the Boston mob boss Julianna Sazia had scientists open the dimensional gateway again to retrieve Barbara to serve her own ends. Barbara double-crossed Julianna though, choosing to aid Wonder Woman when she became caught in the mob war between Paulie Longo and Julianna Sazia in Boston. Seeing her debt to Wonder Woman paid for attempting to rescue her in Pan Balgravia, the Cheetah has continued in her quest to defeat Wonder Woman when it became convenient to her.
With help from the super-villain Zoom, Minerva attained a level of super speed even greater than she had previously possessed. During the One Year Later stories, the witch Circe placed a spell on Minerva that allows her to change her appearance from human to Cheetah at will, even though she still remains in her Cheetah form through either guise. She possessed control of three actual Cheetahs and still possessed her super speed, which was shown by her being able to steal the golden lasso away from Donna Troy several times in battle.
There is a figure of the Priscilla Rich Cheetah available, but this figure, as impressive as her design may be, is somewhat less impressive to me than the Minerva Cheetah, who has the actual appearance and powers of a cheetah crossed with a person.
Now here's where things get a little tricky, figurewise. Minerva has most typically been seen in the comics -- well -- naked. Technically, she's covered in cheetah-like fur, but she's not covered in anything else. And reportedly there is a figure of her out there in this form. At least I've seen pictures of one. However, more recently, Cheetah has appeared wearing a black tank top and black leggings, that tend to vary in length anywhere from biker shorts to the top of the lower legs, depending on who's doing the artwork. She also tends to act a little less crazed, as well.
Honestly, this was the version that I wanted the most, because I felt that the additional costume details made for a more dynamic figure, and because the headsculpt that I'd seen -- and they might well have been prototypes -- showed the "naked" Cheetah with a particularly vicious expression on her face, where's as the "clothed" Cheetah had a more reasonable facial expression.
Fortunately, that's the version I found, too. So, with all of that out of the way -- how's the figure? Absolutely excellent, using a mixture of established body molds with some truly unique parts and an amazing paint job to achieve the final figure.
As with the male heroes, Mattel has a good basic set of body molds for a number of their female figures. Actually, they have two such sets. One tends to be used, with significant unique parts, for major players like Wonder Woman, Power Girl, and Black Canary. The other set, somewhat smaller in stature, has been used on a number of other female characters, such as Starfire, Harley Quinn, and now, Cheetah.
It's a good basic design, but then I wouldn't expect anything less from the Four Horsemen design and sculpting studio. The overall proportions are good, and the articulation is even better.
Of course, there's a distinctive headsculpt. Here, Cheetah looks serious, but not maniacal. It's a good basic expression for a villain that may have the powers and even occasionally the demeanor of a wild animal, but isn't incapable of being reasonable. While I haven't followed the character's history all that closely, I remember one early scene in the mini-series "Villains United" where Cheetah was on some grassy plain somewhere chowing down on an animal she'd just killed. In more recent times, she's actually tried to bargain with other villains, and has been seen hanging around with former Justice League "mascot" Snapper Carr. She's still nasty -- just not as feral. The headsculpt on this version of the figure reflects that.
The hair was separately sculpted and attached to the head. It is brown and long, hanging literally to the tail, and is very wavy and wild. The hair alone is an impressive sculpt in and of itself, greatly detailed and very impressively done.
Her costume, the black tank top and leggings, are simply painted on (although some of the parts are just molded in that color), but it still leaves plenty of her -- cheetah-ness open for viewing, including her head, arms, midriff, lower legs, tail, and -- cleavage. The basic color is a dark yellow orange, an ocher, really. To this Mattel has combined spots painted on through a stencil with some airbrushed detailing to great effect. I don't usually approve of airbrushing on an action figure, because too often it can be hit-or-miss, especially if it's used to enhance musculature or something. Mattel's not too bad with this when they do it, however. In the case of Cheetah, though, it's not designed to enhance musculature, but rather to give a sort of color texture to her "fur". It's painted on her cheeks, outer arms, outer legs, and the back of her tail.
The only place where it doesn't really work too well is on the figure's back, where it looks as though they airbrushed this darker brown color over the black costume detail. However, the hair hangs down over it, so unless you're going to pose the Cheetah figure in what would undoubtedly be a very uncomfortable position regardless of her cheetah-like agility, you're not really going to notice it.
On top of this, very neatly painted through a stencil or paint mask, or possibly even imprinted on the figure somehow -- I'm really not sure -- is a series of cheetah-like spots. They are evident on the figure's forehead, sides of the neck, down the arms and legs, her sides and back, and on the tail. The end result is extremely impressive.
Painted details on the face are similarly well done. Cheetah has slightly arched eyebrows, orange-brown eyes, very neatly painted overall, and some red trim around her lips. Lipstick? Or maybe a little something leftover from the last gazelle she hunted. I'm not gonna ask...
The hands and feet of the figure are certainly distinctive. Her hands have long fingers turned in somewhat as if she's ready to claw somebody, which she probably is. Impressively, each finger is separate from the others on both hands, and the fingernails, extremely delicate, are individually painted. The toes of her feet are not separate from one another, but Cheetah is barefoot, something no previous female figure in the line has been, and each toenail is also individually painted.
Then, of course, there's the tail. Cheetah does have a tail. It's about 3 inches long, slightly curved at the tip, and is attached -- well -- about where you'd expect it to be attached. It's not articulated there, nor is it any sort of "bendie" with a wire in it or anything, but it looks good and is positioned in such a way that it is no hindrance whatsoever to leg articulation or anything like that.
And, as one would expect of a DC Universe Classics figure, Cheetah is of course superbly well-articulated. The figure is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.
Cheetah does not come with any accessories. I'm resisting the urge here to make a joke about the fact that I consider myself fortunate to have found the version of this character designed to look like she's wearing clothes, never mind accessories. However, Mattel has taken to marketing the DC Universe Classics line as an "Adult Collectible" -- says so right on the package. I believe this enables them to produce a wider range of more obscure characters without rehashing a Batman or Superman every other round. The package has been redesigned to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of DC Comics, and each figure comes with a little metal pinback button, requiring, of course, its own set of warnings on the package. For the Cheetah figure, the button features the Cheetah, but it's the Priscilla Rich version, who's also the Cheetah figure pictured on the back of the package.
And, that may be your favorite Cheetah version, and her figure is out there. However, I am pleased with the modern day version that I have added to my own collection.
So, what's my final word here? It's funny, but when I first heard about Cheetah being added to the DC Universe Classics line, some months before actually acquiring the figure, my initial reaction when I saw some of the early pictures was, "I wish they'd paint her recent clothes on her and calm down that facial expression a bit." In fact, I was fully prepared to customize my Cheetah, at least as far as the costume was concerned, even if I couldn't do much with the face. Fortunately, Mattel saved me the trouble on both counts, and I thank them very sincerely for that.
Whichever version of Cheetah is your favorite, it's one more interesting female character in the DC Universe Classics line, and an exceptionally well-made figure with superb detailing. You can't go wrong here whatsoever.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of CHEETAH most definitely has my highest recommendation!