Today we’re starting Brief Lives, with Jason Tank recapping chapter 1 and MikeS chapter 2.

Glyph’s introduction to Sandman, in three parts, here, here, and here.

Preludes and Nocturnes recaps here: Glyph and Patrick tackled the first four issues, Jaybird tackled the fifth, Glyph recapped six and seven. Mike Schilling recapped number eight.

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.

A Game of You recaps here: Mike Schilling reviewed the first two in this post. Jason Tank and Mike Schilling tackled the next two issues here. Russell Saunders gave us the last two issues 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

Chapter 1

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.

Chapter 2

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.

Wet Dreams

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 [1], 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.

Mike Schilling

Mike has been a software engineer far longer than he would like to admit. He has strong opinions on baseball, software, science fiction, comedy, contract bridge, and European history, any of which he's willing to share with almost no prompting whatsoever.


  1. I’ve recently learned two things.

    1. Neil Gaiman is going to be in Santa Rosa on July 6th.
    2. A friend is associated with the event, and can help get me and a reasonably sized group of friends excellent seats.

    Are any Bay Area LoOGers interested?

      • He and Amanda Palmer did a ninja performance (semi-spontaneous, planned on the fly a few days before it happened) close to me a few months ago. Unfortunately, that was the weekend of Megacon, so I was unable to make it. I was quite disappointed.

  2. Chapter 1: I thought that might be Mad Hettie at the start, but I don’t think it is. Wonder why not, seems like if you have a bag-lady character with knowledge of/interactions with The Endless, you’d use her again. Or is it her, and she is just drawn differently (I didn’t go back to compare her speech patterns, like “Hindustrial Haccident”)?

    I am resisting the urge to read ahead, to remember how all the “eye/rain/tears/water” motifs tie in (Delirium going on about the flood of “gunky stuff in ppls eyes”; Despair later piercing her own eyes so as to “cry” via those gunky aqueous and vitreous humors).

    I noticed for the first time that the walls of the bondage club are decorated with hundreds of shattered mirror fragments; as Despair is Desire’s twin, it makes sense that this would be her club too (though you’d think then that Despair would have seen Delirium coming?)

    Also, Delirium thinks she needs a pet – after all, as she notes, Despair has her rats, Dream his bird, and Death her goldfish (the most death-prone pets you can get:-) – but what are Destiny’s “little flappy things”? His book, which Delirium mistakes for a pet?

    • I think it is not Mad Hettie. One reason not to use her is because the lady does not seem to have knowledge of the interest. She thinks Delirium is just a strange runaway. Mad Hettie might have a better idea of who she was dealing with.

      • Well, to me that would be another argument TO use her. Mad Hettie would be most likely to interact with Delirium (and, like Delirium, forget all about it immediately), no? Just seems weird to have an insane London bag lady who is aware of the Endless NOT interact with the one she’d be most attuned to. Gaiman is so fond of these little curlicues it seems a missed opportunity.

    • I’m not sure if that’s what is meant, but in the prolog of Season of Mists when Destiny calls his siblings together, there are some floating wispy things that bring the refreshments. I thought they were his servants; maybe Delirium is confused (what are the odds, huh) or maybe they’re pets that serve.

      • I hadn’t noticed those before! I have a theory…

        Gurl ybbx yvxr jvfcl rpubrf bs Qrfgval uvzfrys, juvpu erzvaqf zr bs gur zhygvcyr Qrfgvavrf gung cbchyngrq uvf tneqra qhevat gur pevfvf bs Gur Xvaqyl Barf, fb zl gurbel vf gurl ner bgure gvzryvarf bs uvzfrys jurer ur unq oebhtug sbbq vafgrnq bs fgbccvat gb gnyx. Jvooyl jbooyl gvzrl jvzrl?

  3. Chapter 2: Rain/water again. Morpheus knew that the affair was over – “It was there in her eyes”.

    Merv Pumpkinhead is awesome, I like the blue-collar perspective on the Dreaming, since normally we get the more aristocratic view from Morpheus and Lucien.

    The Miniature Chocolate People spend “the last of their brief borrowed lives in a spasm of raspberry cream and fear” – the “little death”, indeed.

    Dream apologizing to Delirium is, as we/she know, out of character. Dream is still pissed at Desire, he won’t cross her doorstep to talk to her.

    Desire refers to Delirium as a “gleet”:

    Hmmm, “viscous” again.

    • Thanks to Deadwood, I associate the word gleet with a kidney stone. Watching Al Swearingen pass his was some of the most harrowing TV I have watched.

      • That’s where I know “gleet” from too.

    • Hmm. Very cool. I’ll have to look for the water motif after this.

      • I really don’t remember if it means anything, I just noticed it this time.

        Maybe it’s nothing, but he seems to be hitting “eyes” and “fluids/tears” pretty hard.

        • Three things I thought of at dinner:

          1.) Delirium is described as having mismatched eyes.

          2.) Could the whole thing be an elaborate pun? When Dream finally decides to accompany his sister, he could be said to be…humoring her.

          3.) I think I really, really like this arc.

    • If I remember correctly, we briefly see Merv in the background when Morpheus gathers everyone to announce he is going to Hell.

      Him apologizing is somewhat out of character, but not completely. He considers protocol to be very important. He is being a bad host (ignoring protocol for treatment of a guest) because he is moping about being dumped, and he realizes it. That does seem like the thing he would apologize for.

      • Merv also showed up in Preludes and Nocturnes as the bus driver when Morpheus was dream-hopping to Mayhew to get his gem. Unless it was some other pumpkin-headed dream.

        Merv later got his own series, Merv Pumpkinhead: Agent of DREAM.

    • Merv reminds me of Wilkinson, who was also working class (judging by his accent) and a complainer.

  4. It just occurred to me that Desire’s telling Dream to send Delirium away was a successful bit of reverse psychology.

    • Desire actually seems to be on her best behavior here though. She’s even fairly kind to Delirium, and she swears up and down to Morpheus that she’s not (and hasn’t been) messing with him.

      • Which is a great cover for messing with him. Or maybe not. But it does seem like Dream hasn’t made up his mind to go until she tells him not to.

      • There are so many rules that we are never fully aware of. Are those oaths binding, or can Desire still be lying? Are there consequences for Desire if he/she is lying about being innocent?

    • I would argue against this, based mostly on the scene where Desire tries to contact Despair and admits that s/he is scared. And this is before Dream is contacted, when s/he isn’t sure Delirium will go that far. I think s/he honestly doesn’t want any of this to happen.

      • The stuff that started rolling in… Doll’s House? Is picking up steam.

        Done bun can’t be undone.

  5. It was Delirium that got me entranced with the Sandman stories. I had actually thought that the comic was about the seven (or six) of the Endless (rather than a tight focus on one of them) until I started finding collected editions.

    A story about modern gods and how they deal with modern godhood? Holy cow! This book was written for me! I admit to being somewhat disappointed when I found that the overall arc was about Dream.

    “But didn’t you notice it was called ‘Sandman’?”

    • “But didn’t you notice it was called ‘Sandman’?”

      “I thought it was about Grandpa Saracen.”

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