Ce­les­tial de­light

Guardians, lovers, war­riors and killers ... an­gels of all forms are brought to life in this gor­geously il­lus­trated graphic novel a flight of an­gels.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LEISURE - MICHAEL CHEANG star2@thes­tar.com.my

THIS is a book about an­gels. An­gels of death, fallen an­gels, guardian an­gels, an­gels of love, an­gels stuck in heav­enly dead-end jobs com­plete with cu­bi­cles ... prac­ti­cally, the only an­gels not men­tioned are the ones that look like Ni­co­las Cage, which is prob­a­bly a good thing.

From guardians to mes­sen­gers, to war­riors and lovers, al­most ev­ery an­gelic as­pect con­ceiv­able is ex­plored in A Flight of An­gels, which claims to be a “riv­et­ing tale in the tra­di­tion of The De­cameron and The Can­ter­bury Tales”. While com­par­i­son to these lit­er­a­ture clas­sics may be stretch­ing it a lit­tle, this graphic novel does have some com­pelling sto­ries to tell, and some gor­geous art to boot.

Con­ceived and il­lus­trated by award-win­ning fan­tasy art leg­end Re­becca Guay (whose work has been used in the Magic: The Gath­er­ing and Worlds Of War­craft trad­ing card games as well as DC Ver­tigo comics), it fea­tures sto­ries by Bill Willing­ham (Ver­tigo Comics’ Fables), for­mer Ver­tigo ed­i­tor Alisa Kwit­ney, as well as young adult nov­el­ists Holly Black ( The Spi­der­wick Chron­i­cles), Louise Hawes and Todd Mitchell.

Each of these five writ­ers have writ­ten their own an­gelic short story for this col­lec­tion of sorts, with a fram­ing plot writ­ten by Black that re­volves around a mys­te­ri­ous fallen an­gel that lands deep in a dark for­est, where his dy­ing body is found by the mys­ti­cal faerie denizens of this strange place. As the gath­ered fauns, fairies, hags and hob­gob­lins de­bate what to do with him, they each tell a dif­fer­ent story of who they imag­ine this ce­les­tial crea­ture to be, and what course of ac­tion should be taken.

Of the five sto­ries col­lected in this vol­ume, the one that I was look­ing for­ward to the most was Willing­ham’s The Story Within The Story Within within. With his work in the fan­tas­tic Fables se­ries, Willing­ham has al­ready proven to be quite adept with myths, le­gends and fan­tasy, and he cer­tainly doesn’t dis­ap­point here.

As with Fables, his an­gel story grounds the ce­les­tial be­ings in the mor­tal world, paint­ing an an­gelic so­ci­ety where an­gels crave love, drink, and plea­sure; and have mun­dane, cu­bi­cle-based jobs just like us mere mor­tals. The re­sult is a fas­ci­nat­ing story about free­dom of choice, and how even an­gels can get frus­trated with the end­less stress of ev­ery­day life and dead-end jobs.

Equally in­trigu­ing is Kwit­ney’s Chaya Su­rah And The An­gel Of Death death, a tale which wouldn’t be amiss in a Hell­boy com­pi­la­tion, about a woman who strikes a bar­gain with the An­gel of Death that en­ables her to live for­ever; and Mitchell’s The Guardian, a touch­ing love story about an an­gel who falls in love with a clumsy serv­ing maid and vows to pro­tect her as long as she lives.

Com­pared to these three fas­ci­nat­ingly fluid sto­ries, the other two sto­ries that book­end the col­lec­tion - Hawes’ Orig­i­nal Sin and Black’s Shin­ing Host - seemed a lit­tle too preachy for my lik­ing, but they still man­age to give some in­ter­est­ing slants to the sub­ject, es­pe­cially Orig­i­nal Sin, which retells the story of the temp­ta­tion of Adam and Eve.

De­spite all the great writ­ers gath­ered here, the main star of this col­lec­tion is still Guay’s art­work, which man­ages to el­e­vate all the sto­ries to the heav­ens by il­lus­trat­ing each of the short sto­ries with dif­fer­ent styles, draw­ing out the essence of each story. Af­ter the rel­a­tively nor­mal crisp black and white pan­els of the fram­ing, the art­work comes alive in a lush ex­plo­sion of colour with Orig­i­nal Sin, and later on in Shin­ing Host.

With The Story Within The Story Within, she roots the il­lus­tra­tions in the real world in a style that brings to mind the art­work of Willing­ham’s reg­u­lar Fables part­ner Mark Buck­ing­ham, while her work on Chaya Su­rah And the An­gel Of Death re­minded me of Mike Mig­nola’s work. And fi­nally, my favourite art­work of all has to be that of The Guardian - a sweet love story beau­ti­fully il­lus­trated in soft, dreamy wa­ter­colours.

With only five sto­ries in the col­lec­tion (six if you count the fram­ing story), this is a lit­tle too short for my lik­ing, but with art­work as gor­geous as Guay and some cre­atively in­ter­est­ing an­gles on an­gels, it’s hard not to love this graphic novel. I won­der if she has any plans to do a sim­i­lar on demons as well... Sug­gested for ma­ture readers.

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