On Twitter a few people wondered if it was fair to ascribe all of Oko’s attributes to Nic Kelman, or all our misgivings about Nic Kelman onto Oko since an entire team of creative people worked on the Planeswalkers.
No, it’s not fair. Very little about this situation is fair. The presence of Nic Kelman in Wizards of the Coast as the Head of Story and Entertainment colors my perception of Oko and the entire Magic Story. Whether or not he actually made any one decision, I believe the author of Girls: A Paean could have overruled it if he so chose. It encourages me to view everything produced by a whole department in the worst possible light.
Oko was a special case because WotC saw fit for Nic Kelman to represent them by introducing the character on Forbes, and I have my suspicions that more of Kelman bled into him than any other character to date. We can and should review the Magic Story more broadly since Nic Kelman entered the building.
It was just after the Ixalan storyline, when Jace and Vraska supported each other and grew as characters. From Dominaria on, Jace has not exhibited the same emotional intelligence, and Vraska has not displayed the same self-confidence. That could be explained by those characters being apart, but someone chose to separate them all that time. More significantly, they devised an exciting plan together to stop Bolas as a culmination of their newfound trust, and that plan was dismantled in a footnote in the Gathering Storm: another decision.
In my view the portrayal of Liliana has been mixed. Before Kelman, she exploited the Gatewatch to help her devour her demon master on Amonkhet. On Dominaria some of her hardness softened. Gideon and her seemed to influence each other. She regained some of the care for others she exhibited in her origin story. He grew harder and took up the Blackblade. That shows strong group dynamics. In her epic War of the Spark trailer, she again appeared to be motivated by caring for others. In the book itself we see that’s not necessarily true. I would argue she was the most effective of the Gatewatch in the War of the Spark, but my fellow Loregoyfs expressed concern she was too angsty. Overall I would prefer she lean into her strengths, her willpower that drives her to bargain with demons and win. In my view trying to make her more sympathetic through kindness dulls her as a character and has some undertones of forcing her to conform to male expectations for women.
With Rowan on the cover of the Wildered Quest I expected her to be the main character. Instead it was her brother Will who seemed to make the most important decisions.
In M19 we saw the joy of Vivien Reid expressed in the flavor text of such cards as Gigantosaurus, but when we encountered her character in the Magic Story, Kelman’s department, she was a joyless eco-Batman.
Were the above decisions I disliked all made by Kelman? Not necessarily, but the greater issue is why should anyone trust him to represent women characters after Girls? And that’s not to say all the representation has been bad. I enjoyed Kaya, Teysa, and Hekara as characters in the Gathering Storm. But perhaps these lesser characters were left to the sole discretion of Django Wexler, and that’s why they shone. Am I exhibiting a bias? Yes, absolutely yes. The reasons why can all be found in the article above.