Today we’re starting Brief Lives, with Jason Tank recapping chapter 1 and MikeS chapter 2.
A Doll’s House recaps here: KatherineMW took on the first two issues, then the next two issues. KatherineMW and Jason Tank then reviewed the fifth and sixth, respectively. Mike Schilling reviewed the final two issues.
Dream Country recaps here: Glyph reviewed Calliope then Jaybird and Maribou reviewed Dream of a Thousand Cats in the first review post for Dream Country. Alan Scott reviewed A Midsummer Night’s Dream then Mike Schilling reviewed Façade in the second.
Season of Mists recaps here: Jaybird reviewed the first two in this post. Jason Tank reviewed the next two here. Boegiboe reviewed the next two after that here and here. Ken reviewed the final two here.
Fables and Reflections recaps here: Ken and Jaybird reviewed the preview plus the first two issues here. Mike Schilling and Jaybird did the next two issues here. KatherineMW did the next issue here.
Glyph, Ken, and Russell did the Sandman Special issues here.
It’s very difficult to discuss this book without discussing the next one (or the one after that, or the one after that), if you want to discuss something with a major plot point: please rot13 it. That’s a simple encryption that will allow the folks who want to avoid spoilers to avoid them and allow the people who want to argue them to argue them.
We good? We good! Everybody who has done the reading, see you after the cut
We open in Greece, in the temple where Orpheus (what’s left of him) still lives. His earring came back to him, as he told Joanna Constantine it would. She herself is there, resting in a grave, long dead. Orpheus, of course, can’t receive that luxury. The days blur together. The people taking care of him flow together. It will be a beautiful day.
Move now to a rainy street in Britain somewhere. I can’t place the accent, but I assume it’s London. Delirium is here. She soon moves indoors, using something of a Jedi mind trick to gain access to a bondage club. They’re playing a Tori Amos song in there, of all things. Tori is many things, but bondage club music she is not. But there’s another reason for this song being here. I will tackle that after we finish the issue.
So.. bondage club. Sassy leather man referencing Freddie Mercury’s death. People drinking. Lots of not-quite sex. Delirium spies what she thinks is her sister, but turns out to be just a dark-haired woman with an ankh. She has a little freak out, and Desire comes to her rescue. Before s/he whisks them away, we get a really twisted look at Desire’s headgames. (I feel sorrier for that woman than certain people on Game of Thrones, and her existence is confined to a single page of a comic book.)
An aside: This is the first time I really like the way Desire’s being drawn. S/he has always looked female in prior appearances, but in the hands of this artist (Jill Thompson is penciller, so I credit her) I can genuinely see a ‘him’ and a ‘her’ from panel to panel, always the same but always in flux. I like it.
The Threshold. Delirium tries to hold herself together (despite turning into a flock of butterflies at one point), trying to cope with a strong desire to see their missing brother. Desire, oddly enough, thinks this desire is one that ought be ignored, and refuses to help.
Delirium moves on to Despair. We get a cold look at Despair’s realm as she watches the beauty of a pedophile feeling trapped. (And she’s not exactly wrong about that.) Despair gouges herself in response to her sister’s plan to seek their brother. She won’t help, but it’s clearly not something she’s comfortable with. Delirium goes off to possibly ask Dream to help, and Despair remembers their brother. There’s some awfully poignant art going on here, with the mirror-windows in Despair’s realm, and then the plague-ridden London of 1665.
There’s a Defoe quote at the top of page 22 that Gaiman uses to sum up Despair. At at the bottom… we finally have a name for “the prodigal”, one that doesn’t have to be translated from ancient Greek: he is Destruction. And at the bottom of the next page, we get a general time for his departure: sometime around 1695.
Desire contacts Despair, but Despair will not respond. Desire sums up Delirium’s aim in three words: “She seeks Destruction.” And the beauty of it is, given Desire’s typeface, we can’t be sure if Destruction should have a capital letter or not. She seeks Destruction. She seeks destruction. Same thing.
Despair is sad. Desire is scared. If this subject is affecting these beings this way, what should we be feeling?
Finally: a note about Tori Amos.
It’s often said that Delirium was inspired by Tori. Gaiman denies this, saying that he didn’t meet her until well after the character was created. (In fact, one of the people he says she was based on was Jill Thompson, who pencilled this series of issues.) So at this point, it is obvious that he is aware of the similarities between Tori and Delirium and is playing with them. (Tori herself will point out the similarities in her introduction to the Death: The High Cost of Living limited series.)
But it goes a bit further. The song being played is “Tear in Your Hand”. If you were reading this serially, you would have had time before the next issue, and you could have looked it up and found out that it was a break-up song, the kind about when you’ve been dumped and you don’t know why. So, it’s a bit of foreshadowing.
But it goes a bit further. You see, there’s a segment early in the song. It goes like this: “If you need me, me and Neil will be hanging out with the dream king. Neil says ‘Hi,’ by the way.” Guess who Neil is. Guess who the dream king is. It’s a shout-out. And Neil used it to shout right back. Tricksy.
But it goes even fuuuurther. Think about those words from the perspective of a character in that club listening to that song. What happens when they ask themselves, “Who is the dream king? Who the hell is Neil?” How could they know? Hell, how would the fictional version of Tori Amos even know? Is the fictional Tori Amos a full-out Prophet with a capital P? Or is there another version of Neil running around in his own fictional universe, writing comics about a dream king? And within those comics, would there be another Neil running around making his own comics, which themselves might feature a Neil, until it’s Neils all the way down?
Well… it’s enough to make you delirious.
It Always Rains on the Unloved
It’s a wet, gloomy day in the Dreaming. Dream’s girlfriend has dumped him, and the whole realm reflects its master’s mood. As Dream stands outside in the rain, Lucien comes to tell him that she’s left for good. Dream instructs him to remove all traces of her and never mention her again.
An underling we haven’t met before, Mervyn the Pumpkinhead, grumbles that Dream is enjoying being miserable and making everyone else feel bad for him, but of course won’t say that to his face. Matthew and Lucien have a similar conversation; it’s been raining for a week, and neither knows when The Boss will get over it.
A Fishing Expedition
Abel’s house is flooded inside (complete with the floating hunny pot from Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day), and his tower of chairs eventually collapses and dumps him in the drink. Meanwhile, Dream continues to wallow in self-pity.
She Kisses Wyverns (The Disneyland Analogy)
The monsters who guard the dreaming interrupt to say that they’ve caught an intruder, The wyvern says, as clearly as he can with an intruder in his mouth, she she claims to be his sister. It’s Delirium, of course. The wyvern apologizes, but she enjoyed the whole thing, and gives him a kiss. She’s afraid her brother will order her away, but instead he asks her to stay and eat.
Dinner Etiquette and Chocolate Lovers
Cut to the classic “two people at a table so big they might as well be in different states”. She asks for mango juice and tiny chocolate people, while he has a more conventional meal. She tries to make conversation, but Dream answers in monosyllables, and she can tell he’s in a bad mood. The food arrives. She starts to play with hers, including making them kiss, which is not ideal therapy for her lovelorn brother. Realizing the meal is ruined, she claims she doesn’t like it anyway, and they go to his gallery to talk. As they leave, the surviving chocolate people on her plate spend their last few unmelted minutes furiously having sex.
Desire Swears by The First Circle
Delirium is frightened that Dream is angry, which makes her unable to begin, which starts to make him angry. He conjures a tissue for her to dry her eyes, and she bursts out how afraid she is of him and how badly he’s been acting. He apologizes, which is so out of character that she thinks he’s laughing at her, but he insists it’s sincere. Now she can talk, telling him that she wants to look for Destruction, but neither Despair nor Desire will help. He suspects this is yet another trick of Desire’s, and calls her to find out, but she insists that neither this nor his breakup were her doing. She swears so by both Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Arthur C. Clarke , then advises him to send Delirium away so he can go back to feeling sorry for himself.
Things are Changing
Meanwhile, Delirium, on her own, is thinking back on when she changed from being Delight, and how Destruction comforted her. She babbles a bit about how her mind is still sharp (losing the thread after a few sentence fragments, of course) and then feels she has to confess that she was lying to him, and really did like the mango juice. He manfully ignores this and asks her how she’d go about looking for Destruction. She has one good idea (start by asking his friends) though again she loses her train of thought, distracted by her own craziness and Lucien’s pointy ears.
What Can Possibly Go Wrong?
Dream has decided to help her and instructs Lucien what to do in his absence. Lucien is skeptical, but Dream explains that Destruction doesn’t want to be found and thus they won’t find him; this is simply an excuse to get away for a while. The last panel features a lovely rainbow over the Dreaming, where it has finally stopped raining, and an even lovelier bit of foreshadowing:
I see no reason to worry. What could possibly go wrong?
1. The First Circle and The Other Side of the Sky.