an autumn shade of azure (bluefall) wrote in noscans_daily,
an autumn shade of azure

The Grand Unified Theory of Cheetahs

Over at S_D 2.0, through the course of comments to my series on the history of the Cheetah, a handful of us assembled a fairly complex communal fanwank for the purpose of reconciling the Many Faces of Barbara Minerva. Since I've just now posted the final chapter of that series, and some of this is now out of date and could use some further tinkering, I thought I'd collect it all here for an easy forum to work with it and just for the general convenience of the, like, maybe six of us who care. ^.^

Initial musings, first seen here -

unknownscribler: I can buy the change in Cheetah's personality when you consider that she quite obviously hasn't been in stasis while off screen. When we first meet her, remember that one of her overwhelming drives was the near constant pain Urzkartaga's jealousy caused her, then the beginning of the 1st story in this post has her seeking a dagger connected to allowing a god to cross dimensional boundries in search of a partner and she's lost the Circe Curse.

Now if it was me, I'd say that Barbara and Urzkartaga have essentially been through some form of marriage counselling prompted not only by the loss of Chuma but by Circe's casual fucking with their relationship. And it's this previously never contemplated need for redfining the ancient marriage contract that eventually leads to Urzkartaga's whole bi-curious phase...

bluefall: Heh. Urzkartaga being what he was in Perez (among other things, a plant), I'm not prepared to cede any fanwank or canon story that requires him to behave in a sentient, deliberate, or particularly human way. [...]

arrlaari: If Urzkartaga doesn't have agency, Rucka!Cheetah's inner monologues don't make any sense. Going back to Perez, Chuma tells Minerva's origin story, he explicitly attributes the "You're not a virgin" curse to Urzkartaga's jealousy.

It seems to me that if you treat the plant as a character - not all that crazy, in the same universe as Poison Ivy and Swamp Thing, not to mention everything else in DCU - then you can explain not only Rucka Cheetah, but all Cheetahs, in terms of Urzkartaga's attempts to recover from the loss of his first wife and Barbara Minerva's refusal to see Urz as anything other than a tool for her own gain. Rucka!Cheetah is what happens when Urzkartaga gains the upper hand. To go from there to failpants, my private theory is that he eventually pushed her over the edge, so she flipped out and ate him.

It's the grand unified theory of Cheetah!

bluefall: Okay, but Rucka!Cheetah is stupid, so I see no virtue in twisting better canon in order to preserve her.

Urzkartaga's punishment of Minerva for 'infidelity' is not actually anything that requires normal sentience or deliberation on his part. It is, in fact, one of the things that makes him seem most distant and least like an actual character - it's very, very ritual. She wasn't a virgin so the ceremony didn't take. Chuma, who personalizes his deity, calls it jealousy; Minerva calls it side effects, and Minerva's take is far more accurate. It's an impersonal, ongoing, unchanging pain that slowly overtook her and can be alleviated with the proper treatment. True jealousy is immediate, changing, incidental. Europa turns into a cow and is left alone. Herc is attacked by snakes; he defeats them, that trial is over, and the next time out, he's struck by madness. That's what people do when they're jealous - they make single attacks that fluctuate in frequency and intensity with their mood. The consistency of Barbara's 'punishment' is that of a disease, not a guiding sentience.

[I would add to this as well the punishment of the cat-god host prior to Minerva; the tribe screwed up the ritual by feeding the Cheetah improper sacrifices, and the woman who was host to the Cheetah got weaker and more frail just as Minerva did. It's the exact same phenomenon - do the ritual wrong, and the bonding doesn't take; when the bonding doesn't take, that manifests as pain to the host.]

arrlaari: Before the most recent iteration, Minerva's had to fight Urzkartaga as much or more than Diana, but I can't think of a single mention of him since she started wearing those pants [this was before FC: Resist was published]. Something's got to explain how he disappeared, and "she flipped out and ate him" ties that up as well as explaining how she's on more solid (and independent) footing, powers-wise, than ever before.

The working theory, as expanded and developed here -

arrlaari: Prepare to witness the awesome explanatory power of the Grand Unified Theory of Cheetahs!

Sebastian, through Circe, learns about Urzkartaga and the Cheetah, and also that Dr. Psycho is potentially powerful enough to mindfuck Hermes. He has Psycho send a mentalgram to Urzkartaga, and negotiates his deal. Cooperating in this plan is Urzkartaga's first real attempt to re-assert control over the Cheetah after Barbara has proven herself, in at least four different ways, to be unsatisfactory (from his perspective). These are

  1. She was not a virgin prior to their marriage.
  2. She has no faith in him, speaking and thinking of him as an object.
  3. Her obsession with the Lasso of Truth, especially once she obtained it, bordered on infidelity, and kept him out of blood sacrifice for an extended period of time.
  4. By the same token, her dealings with Circe amount to a conspiracy between Barbara and Circe to steal his power, and denying him the blood sacrifice that he'd been missing since the lasso fiasco.

Urzkartaga tolerated these for Chuma's sake, and because Barbara suffered for each of them; either by his will or natural consequences (also, he must've been famished for blood when Barbara finally got out from under Circe's thumb). However, when Sebastian brings these things up together with his first wife's failure, which led to the destruction of his tribe (not necessarily or even reasonably her fault, but you could spin it that way) and Circe's role in trying to steal his power, it's not far-fetched to believe that Urzkartaga could see something in Sebastian's "women suck" theory.

Of course, Circe (from this point on Urzkartaga must really hate her) shows up and Sebastian starts banging her, so the bloom probably comes off the rose PDQ. Even so, Sebastian seems to bring a reverent attitude to the ritual, even if he doesn't know it quite perfectly. He never treats Urzkartaga like an object and he's a steady supply of blood sacrifice.

Psycho hangs on as a medium and IIRC a part of the Silver Swan project. Or was he only there for the first Swan? Anyway, the fight with Donna is a smokescreen for Psycho to pull the real Urzkartaga off-stage so they doesn't get smashed. How much of the dialogue is channelling genuine Urzkartaga or Psycho bullshitting Donna, YMMV. When Angle-man tries to use his power on Urzkartaga, Psycho becomes disoriented (having space and time flip out on you can do that) and can't retain his focus.

broblawsky: Yeah, my interpretation was that Ballasteros hired Psycho to act as a spirit medium so that he could directly communicate with Urzkartaga - and I imagine that it wouldn't be that hard to convince Urzkartaga that Minerva was a shitty bride (because she kinda is). Psycho was created by Marston as part of his Victorian spiritualism obsession, and channeling spiritual entities like Urzkartaga seems like it should be inside his powerset.

bluefall: The problem with that theory remains that Urzkartaga is not that deliberate or sentient. He *is* basically an object - he's not something you can negotiate with or convince. He's low-grade, primitive, impulse and spirit, not mind or thought. You can see it in his rituals, in his punishment of Minerva (the disease/wrath distinction I mentioned before), in the fact that his own priests are unable to communicate with him and misjudge his impulses and desires...

...and you can see it in the Cheetah, too. Urzkartaga is a god that lives inside a plant. The Cheetah is a god that lives inside a human. They are mates, matches, wedded spirits, two of a kind... and the Cheetah is absolutely nothing like sentient. It's a pile of impulses, to hunt and kill and feed on the enemies of the tribe. That's all it is. Minerva doesn't have a split personality or a dual nature, there's no second mind inside her that she argues with, there's no Ghost Rider stuff happening here. There's just Minerva. The thing she overcomes when she asserts her own personality over the Cheetah's influence is a basic, instinctive assortment of drives and desires, not a thinking mind that can be spoken with and convinced of anything. Why would Urzkartaga be different? How can instinct and impulse share a pantheon with sentience? How can a personality meaningfully be married to an idea? How can Chuma's tribe have worshipped as a matched set two such completely disparate forms of deity?

If you're going to let Urzkartaga negotiate a new bargain with that kind of sapience, you've gotta give Cheetah a personality separate from Minerva that has its own interests too. It's that much of a distortion of what Perez presented.

arrlaari: As you know, you go to continuity with the Cheetah you have, not the Cheetah you might want or wish to have after a later reality rewriting crossover. [...] That said, the GUTC as initially formulated is flawed in that it back-propagates later, inferior material onto Perez' excellent run. Ideally, a theory should give Urzkartaga and the Cheetah-god sentient agency only when strictly necessary to explain observed phenomena.

As a refinement, I propose that Urzkartaga's sentience was precipitated by Dr. Psycho's attempts to initiate contact. While he thought he was merely finding Urzkartaga's mind, he was actually shaping it from the primal impulses which had previously constituted its total psychic existence. Thus, while Psycho is channelling Urzkartaga he identifies with it completely, and the newly sentient Urzkartaga picks up a great deal of Pyscho's rotten attitude and an anti-Diana grudge. Non-sapient Urzkartaga is maintained through Perez and Byrne, non-sapient Cheetah-god maintained throughout continuity.

bluefall: Okay, now this has potential.

Deities can be rewritten in the DCU. Couple of different ways, in fact. Over time, the way a deity's followers perceive said deity can alter that deity to conform to that perception; deities also, as per Rucka, seem to have the ability to willfully reinvent themselves when provided sufficient catalyst and self-awareness. Frex, several of the Olympians, due to frequent exposure to Diana and her mortal, lateral thinking (note the ones who change most are the ones most involved with Diana over the years), were able to garner the self-perception to pull this off.

Urzkartaga has but a single worshipper remaining, and is probably also subject to Minerva's perception of him, which of course is even more limiting than Chuma's. He's never going to feel the slow-change, at least not in a direction that does him any good. But he also has a dead people, a fickle bride with no sense of obligation to or respect for him whatsoever, and a starvation diet, which is motive enough for catalysis; if you can *give* him self-awareness, it might be enough to allow him to deliberately reinvent himself as a more sapient deity. I'm not convinced anything Psycho could do could have that effect - we've never seen evidence he can touch or influence something that isn't even technically a mind - but it certainly seems within Circe's repertoire. [see also this thread.]

Once sapience is established, then, a renegotiation of the contract becomes utterly gratuitous - Psycho can simply steamroll Urzkartaga into doing whatever the hell Circe wants. If he can manipulate Hermes, a newborn god without a tenth of that power should be a cakewalk. This actually neatly accounts for the "what the hell happened with Donna and Angelo" problem - if the contract wasn't renegotiated, if Circe was just having Ballesteros do a half-assed placebo ceremony while holding Urzkartaga's leash through Psycho, then as soon as Psycho's concentration breaks, Urzkartaga rejects Ballesteros, finding the very idea of boy!Cheetah every bit as insulting and absurd as... well, as it is.

Urzkartaga then gives Cheetah her power back - to what extent he's able to and to what extent his influence is still affected by Circe's messing with Minerva back in the Perez run is an open question, but provides plausible justification for the sacrifice of Ballesteros' blood, the first such sign of fealty since way back when Minerva stole the lariat - but they soon enough find that both of them have changed too much for any prior arrangement to function, thus justifying *much* of the insanity between that point and current.

It still doesn't make Rucka's "doting wife" bullshit work...

magus_69: It can with more wanking. Let me explain.

Barbara was killed in the fight with Ballesteros. Gail has recently reminded us that Barbara sold her soul to Neron. Where would she have ended up when she died?

Yes. Hell. Exactly.

The suffering she endured there knocked her way the Hell off her game (pun definitely intended). So, when Uzkartaga used his power to haul her out of there, she was absurdly grateful, which explains the "loving wife" bullshit. The mental trauma of Hell screwed her up that much. Uzkartaga probably loved Cheetah 3.0 more than either recent variation, because she was a) faithful and b) kept him fed. I hold that her "affair" with Zolomon was emotional rather than physical, because of her trauma and his fixation on his ex.

The reason Uzkartaga raised her in the first place is simple: his sole remaining priest was kinda fixated on her, and he could see why. Barbara Minerva is impressive by any standard, and would make a terrific servant if only he could... nudge her. Not enough to dull her edge, but enough to keep her grateful for what he did for her. That would explain why she was the Cheetah all the time in this period; he couldn't get at her when she wasn't drawing on the power.

Of course, she is still Barbara Minerva. At some point she realized just what she had become, and why, and threw herself into a drawn out, frequently painful process of taking back control. She's done it before, but this time was different because a) she didn't have Diana's help and b) dealing with Uzkartaga now is loads different from dealing with the Cheetah then because he's now sapient (and more than a little like Dr. Psycho). The struggle between the two took its toll on the Cheetah's power level because Uzkartaga tried to make her obey by severely restricting the power she could draw on. By the time she was sent to Planet Australia, she was barely more than a mortal, although Uzkartaga turned the juice back on when it looked like she was going to die.

Eventually, the good doctor bested the plant god, and is now the scheming superpowered menace we have seen under Gail's pen. [...]

Further refinements post-consolidation -

bluefall: Okay, that's Jimenez, Rucka, Johns, and Pfeifer accounted for, leaving Meltzer/McDuffie, Heinberg and the more recent Rucka that Fungo was kind enough to inflict on us all.

The Heinboot stuff you can frame in terms of her struggle with Urzkartaga. Signing on with Circe in light of their past looks insane, but it could easily be desperate instead; if she's losing the fight, well, Circe set her free before, and it's no more dangerous a gamble than with Neron. It even pays off to some extent, if she's able to take on Donna and endure a beatdown from Diana and Herc - that's not up to spec, but it's better than she was in Gotham. It doesn't last, though; maybe Circe just didn't do as thorough a job, maybe the sentient Urzkartaga is a harder thing to disrupt, either way, she's obviously losing again by the time she gets shipped interstellar.

Meltzer/McDuffie is trickier. An off-her-nut, mentally clouded Cheetah signing up with the Society makes sense - her overriding desire was for protection and assistance against ongoing persecution by a powerful enemy, and mistranslating that from "Urzkartaga" to "superheroes" on the way to the conscious brain is totally plausible. But by the Injustice League stuff in JLA, she seems to be much closer to in control - she's not fully herself but she is smart, together and aware. Did she hope, in accumulating allies, to find someone who'd be more useful than Circe? I'm not totally satisfied with that, but it's closer than just "rar I'm a bad guy I'll join the bad guys."

That leaves us with FC: Resist. Which... it's gotta be an inflicted madness on Urzkartaga's part. Same thing Hera did to Herc when he killed his family. Not a long-term struggle for dominance like the power fluctuation, but a single, furious, petty attack. Minerva doesn't have many weak points, but she does have her dignity - we know she's a very proud creature, who hates to show weakness, loathes owing anybody anything, would die before she admitted affection or allowed a momentary lapse in her sense superiority over all mankind... so what better punishment, what better humiliation than making her debase herself, kittenlike, with a Z-list doofus like Snapper?

Cursed with a momentary fit of playful affection. This would be sufficient motive for arrlaari's contention that she flipped out and ate Urzkartaga somewhere in the recent past.

arrlaari: I'm still tickled by that adapted Rumsfeld quote.

It's kind of a shame Sebastian is dead and gone. He's actually got a decent niche as a wheeler-dealer trickster type, a con-man-cum-mastermind. He effectively managed to fast-talk his way into being the Cheetah and having practically the rest of Diana's rogue's gallery in his group, starting from a minor pot of cash. Letting him be boy-cheetah is a bridge too far, but let him be the guy who can negotiate his way into the top tier supervillain circles based on nothing more than his minor wealth (as a Latin American oligarch, he's not super-rich by Wayne-Luthor-Stark-Osborn standards, but he ain't exactly poor either) and promises, an over-leveraged mastermind who's over his head. That would be a bit of okay. He'd be to Lex Luthor what a bubble is to a genuinely healthy economy.

Not worth bringing him back from the dead, but if some doofus does it anyway, that'll be the direction to take him.

One thing that strikes me about Barbara is that she seems constitutionally disinclined to even pretend to be nice. Back when she was a jerkass archaeologist, Dr. Leavens couldn't get two words out before she snapped at him for being a goddamn useless wuss.

Which brings me to FC: Resist. It seems strange to me that Urzkartaga would punish her for infidelity by inducing her to commit adultery, but there's an alternate explanation. Her first meeting with Snapper Carr is when he asks her not to kill an anti-lifed villain she has pinned, which is more than enough for her to peg him as a goody-two-shoes superhero type. Still, he's got power and he's not an AL-zombie, so if she's going to need help he's the only game in town. So she figures if she's her usual "sensible" self he'll have a snit and get them both killed, and resolves to "play nice." The meaning of which isn't at all clear to her, since the idea is so alien to her psyche. So long as she can keep herself convinced that she's totally faking it, no really, she could justify that to herself.

bluefall: I dunno, I think "faithfulness" is pretty far down the list of things Urzy gives a shit about by the time we get to that point. He no longer has anything resembling devotion to her any more than she does him; they loathe each other, and his efforts to control her are about survival, not marital fealty. Him pushing Minerva to get down 'n' dirty with an inferior specimen is only problematic if he still has any desire to get down 'n' dirty with her himself, and I think that ship sailed before he was even sentient. Particularly when you consider that, if it's at his instigation, it's no more "cheating" than a girl getting it on with her boyfriend's roommate while her boyfriend himself holds the camera.

Plus, Minerva knows that white hats feel obligated to help you out and watch your back even when you're a raving lunatic to them. I mean, consider that her primary example of the breed is Diana. She really didn't need to "play nice" for Snapper to take her in, she just had to not go overboard and kill people, and she's always been familiar with that distinction.
Tags: wonder woman/diana
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