Everything you know about Gideon Jura is wrong. Well, most of it, at any rate.
Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 trailer, totally awesome and totally not canon!
I’ve written before about how much I love that trailer. It’s one of
the most emotionally compelling media-bits put out by Wizards in the past five years.
It’s also completely wrong. Word of Doug Beyer says so.
Gideon wasn’t “born of a world long since destroyed,” so he couldn’t have had a hand great or small in it. He wasn’t “blinded by [his] own self-righteous
fury.” He didn’t “fight the very kind of tyrant [he] had become.” He’s just Gideon. Who fought to protect Zendikar. Who hooked up with the Boros Legion on
Ravnica to serve the people but took a turn for the Gateless — maybe — possibly — Gideon didn’t really play much into the storyline there.
Gideon Jura, once Kytheon Iora of Theros.
The card and the screenshot.
Retcons (short for “retroactive continuity changes”) are nothing new to Magic. Consider the original Mirrodin setting’s initial method of population (have
fun Googling “soul traps” to try to wrap your head around it) and how the continuity of the novels quietly was altered for Scars of Mirrodin so that the
plane still would be populated. Different retcons have different stakes (a tiny detail will be noticed only by the hardcore, while a fundamental change
will ripple all through the fandom) and can be done skillfully or poorly with the attendant consequences.
Sources of Confusion
The Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 trailer isn’t the only place where Gideon’s continuity gets tangled up. His appearance also is a source of
Let’s start with the original visual appearance as done by Aleksi Briclot. The depiction on Gideon Jura (in zoomable wallpaper form) is of a strong fighter. A
head-and-shoulders zoom-in shows a tan face and long hair that is generally straight, maybe with a hint of wave or curl to it.
Now look at the “group shot of Planeswalkers” depiction by Brad Rigney.
Gideon’s right up front in the middle group. Everyone’s kind of in shadow, so that even Innistrad’s prince of pastiness Sorin Markov looks a bit
grayed-out. Gideon Jura actually has the most light on him, and once again the color that comes to mind is “tan.” His hair is perhaps a bit straighter than
Gideon next pops up in Return to Ravnica block. Once more, if I say “tan,” it fits in the mind. He looks a little lighter in the art where he wears the
symbol of the Boros and a little darker in the shadowed image on Gideon, Champion of Justice, but the visual is still fairly consistent.
Then his super-stylized Funko POP! figure came along, and Gideon was tan. Deep tan. Cue the flipping-out.
Also cue Doug Beyer stating that Gideon “was never
intended to be a straight-up white guy” and mentioning “some Mediterranean influence.” (In retrospect,I see what you did there, Mr. Beyer. Also here, about Gideon having “lurking red
tendencies” and coming from the white/red-aligned city-state of Akros on Theros.)
When I heard in isolation (i.e. without seeing any of the Magic Origins images) that Gideon originally was from Theros, it actually made sense to me for
certain values thereof, and so did his skin tone. The humans of Theros range in appearance from Daxos of Meletis to Phalanx Leader. Gideon certainly fits
on that visual spectrum.
The problem is, before the announcement Gideon was from Theros, nobody outside Wizards really had any idea where he was from. The other problem is a rather
persistent and pernicious assumption in the Western world that “white” ( whatever it means at the time) is the “default,” and anything
else has to prove itself and be marked as the “other.”
What that means, specifically for Gideon, is that he himself never changed; he always had tan skin. On the other hand, people by-and-large interpreted him
pre-Theros revelation as “white dude with a tan” rather than “tan skin because this is who he’s always been (and depending on what he’s been doing, that
tan color may be lighter or deeper).” More reading on the topic.
The Theros setting is a giant signifier: “Hey there! Any assumptions you may have brought with you about how fantasy characters ‘should’ look don’t apply
here!” But the fandom didn’t get the chance to associate “Gideon Jura” with “Theros” until after three appearances, two in main sets and one in a core set.
I’m not saying the “Gideon’s white” assumption was right, but merely that it was there, and when the Funko POP! lineup packaging whiffed by
Kiora’s now-retconned-out-of-existence-because-offense-to-living-traditions surname “Atua,”
I’m also not surprised people thought Gideon’s deep-tan skin tone was an error.
Only one of these is an actual mistake.
I don’t know when, specifically, Wizards knew (or settled on) Gideon’s origin on Theros. The latest date was whenever his original Theran name, “Kytheon
Iora,” went into the flavor text files. Perhaps Wizards knew in time for marketing Rise of the Eldrazi, perhaps not. Either way, whether or not Wizards had
the chance to sneak a reference into Gideon’s biography or have him reminisce
about his home plane full of heroes…it didn’t happen. That’s where the trouble began.
The Part Where JDB Gets Himself into Trouble Talking About Hair
According to the Magic Origins video game screenshots released so far, Gideon’s first long-term plane-hop was from Theros to Bant, the
no-longer-extant shard of Alara where gorgeous castles dotted meadows and champions faced each other in single combat.
“Bant” apparently is the same in Italian and English.
With a slight tweak of his name, perhaps to account for the language differences between Bant and Akros on Theros, Kytheon Iora remade himself as Gideon
Jura, a name that has particular resonance to the “medieval storybook” plane. (A monk at work in a scriptorium, knowledgeable in both Latin and the Old
Testament, would find neither “Gideon” nor “Jura” strange. I’m reminded of the fictional Brother Cadfael
and his illegitimate son, the Syrian-born, olive-skinned Olivier de Bretagne, whose life almost forms a “good” parallel to Gideon Jura’s.)
While long hair on men is far from a universal on Bant, cards such as Cancel and Sighted-Caste Sorcerer depict it, so I can see Gideon Jura growing his out
on Bant. Clean-shaven male characters such as the Akrasan Squire also suggest the existence of shaving implements. I have no problems with Gideon’s
distinctly styled beard, either, and there’s a connection between the styling of the man on Kiss of the Amesha and Gideon’s facial fashion.
Here’s where I get weirded out: How does Gideon’s art go from a distinctly curly-headed young street tough to long, perfectly straight hair in most of his
As he was then.
Gideon Jura would’ve gone from a lighter skin tone by Theros standards to a deeper one by Bant standards, but his tan complexion wouldn’t have been
out-of-place, not with characters like Rafiq of the Many also present. That floppy, loosely curling hair, though, isn’t part of the Bant style guide. What
did he use, a magical hair straightener? And why does he keep using it long after Alara has been reunited?
Hair is a tremendously complicated topic and I’m not the
best-equipped to discuss it, but here I can say that aside from the whole “I come from a different culture and wear different clothes and know of worlds
you can’t imagine” side of things, what would have set Gideon Jura apart most from the rest of Bant in his first hours was his hair.
People in the Multiverse can and do change their hairstyles, just as people on Earth do, and possibly for some of the same reasons. No other Magic Origins
character, though, has shown such a drastic change from pre-spark to post-spark. Jace’s hairstyles have varied considerably over the years, from smooth to
spiky, but in a much narrower way than Gideon’s.
I can come up with rationales for why Gideon’s gone through each of the changes that he has, but like snowflakes, the doubts stick together until they’re a
mass too heavy to ignore. I still can suspend my disbelief for now and accept the retcon that puts Gideon on Theros at first with a planeswalk to Bant.
But Wizards Creative, please don’t strain my suspension of disbelief much more.