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