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The Sandman: Brief Lives

Brief Lives (1994) is the seventh collection of issues in the DC Comics series, The Sandman. Written by Neil Gaiman, penciled by Jill Thompson, inked by Vince Locke and Dick Giordano, coloured by Danny Vozzo, and lettered by Todd Klein. This collections perhaps belongs with the first, Preludes and Nocturnes, and the fourth, Season of Mists, as a single storyline collection dealing mostly with the Endless. Picking up on story threads introduced in Season of Mists and the story Orpheus from Fables and Reflections, it features the other Endless more than any other collection.

The title of the collection is the most significant of all the collections, for much of it is indeed concerned with mortality. In one of the most significant lines of the series, Death tells Bernie Capax, a man who has lived for fifteen thousand years, "you lived what anybody gets, Bernie. You got a lifetime."

The issues in the collection first appeared in 1992 and 1993. The collection first appeared in paperback and hardback in 1994.

It was preceded by Fables and Reflections and followed by Worlds' End.

Synopsis

The main story follows Morpheus and his younger sister Delirium on a quest to find their brother, Destruction, who abandoned his realm and his responsibilities many years previously. The quest costs the lives of many of the pair's mortal contacts; this, it transpires later, is a result of 'mechanisms' Destruction set up to protect himself from discovery when he left. Eventually, the pair do track Destruction down, with the help of Morpheus' son Orpheus. In return, Orpheus demands a boon of his father: he wishes to die; and bound by his sense of obligation and propriety, Morpheus cannot do anything but consent to this wish. This shedding of family blood is in turn a key plot point in the ninth collection, The Kindly Ones.

The meeting with Destruction is perhaps the centre of the collection, with Destruction meditating on change and responsibility with a depth and sharpness that escapes Morpheus, who is blinded from conscious self-understanding by his stubbornness; even as he changes, he cannot perceive that he is changing, and refuses to seriously consider the possibility. The ending of this issue encapsulates these ideas perfectly: Destruction leaves with his belongings tied up in a handkerchief slung over his shoulder, saying only that he is going "...out there somewhere", while Morpheus, bound as always by his obligations, tells Delirium "I have to kill my son."

Contents

(#41) Chapter 1

BLOSSOM FOR A LADY - RAIN IN THE DOORWAY - NOT HER SISTER - WANT/NOT WANT - THE VIEW FROM THE BACKS OF MIRRORS - JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR - "THE NUMBER YOU HAVE DIALED..."

This story opens up in Greece, where an old man named Andros and his armed family play the modern role of "the priests of Orpheus" and guard a "little temple on a cliff". In the temple rests the head of Orpheus and the tomb of Lady Constantine.

The next scene follows Delirium as she goes from lying on the street with a beggar to a sex club (where she confuses a Gothic-looking girl with her older sister, Death). Instead, Desire arrives to take to her to Desire's own realm. Delirium wants to find her brother, but Desire refuses, so Delirium goes to the mirrored realm of Despair, where again, she is turned down for her request. The mirrors of Despair are windows that show an "existence that's fallen" to Despair and include a recently discovered child molestor.

Despair's memories then flash back to another scene, centuries past, in the times of the Plague.

There, a cheery Destruction converses with her about change. Despair is heard saying:

Some things are changeless. / People love, and die, they dream, destroy, despair, go mad. They fulfill their destinies, love out the course of their lives. / We fulfill our function, as they fulfill theirs... / That will not change.

To which Destruction replies:

You think not? / Ahhh. Aye well, perhaps you are right, after all. / We will see.

A troubled Desire then asks Despair's help in stopping Delirium's search for "the Prodigal". Desire receives no response from Despair.

(#42) Chapter 2

TWO: IT ALWAYS RAINS ON THE UNLOVED - WET DREAMS - A FISHING EXPEDITION - SHE KISSES WYVERNS (THE DISNEYLAND ANALOGY) - DINNER ETIQUETTE AND CHOCOLATE LOVERS - DESIRE SWEARS BY THE FIRST CIRCLE - "THINGS ARE CHANGING" - WHAT CAN POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

The end of Morpheus' latest relationship with an unmentioned female has left the Dreaming in a rain storm, a topic for discussion for Mervyn (the pumpkinhead), Matthew (the raven), and Lucien (the librarian). Lucien reveals that "after the Nada affair, he razed the dreaming. It was a bleak, lonely desert for centuries". Morpheus continues his melodramatic moping, flooding all dreams.

Delirium appears in Dream's realm with her request for help in finding her brother. In an amusing dinner scene, Delirium orders, "chocolate people" and leaves them to melt while copulating. Desire swears (by "my heart" and by "the first circle" and by "the other side of the sky" and by "the sword") that she had nothing to do with Delirium's quest.

Delirum remembers how she changed from being Delight.

After the period of incessant rain, Dream (half-heartedly) agrees to accompany Delirium, leaving Lucien and the Dreaming with an inverted rainbow quite reminiscent of the Biblical deluge) and these words:

"After all, this is completely straightforward. What could possibly go wrong?"

(#43) Chapter 3

THE PEOPLE WHO REMEMBER ATLANTIS - CONCERNING MAMMOTHS, AND FALLING WALLS - WHO CONTROLS TRANSPORTATION? - BORED, SHE MAKES LITTLE FROGS - TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, AND OTHER PLACES - ANCESTRAL VOICES PROPHESYING - THE DOGS OF ART - "WHEN I DREAM, SOMETIMES I REMEMBER HOW TO FLY"

A narrator describes "the truly old", people, humanoids, humans and others, "human to all appearances (and in a few cases, to all medical tests currently available)" who have walked and continue to walk the earth to this day.

The action begins with Bernie Capax (presumably one of "the truly old"), who, as he reminisces about Mammoth rank (stink), finally meets Death. His disbelief is met with one of the most memorable lines of The Sandman, “You got a lifetime. No more. No less. You got a lifetime.”

Morpheus and Delirium arrange transportation with Pharamond (now, Mister Farrell) who is an old acquaintance of Morpheus from a time in ancient Babylon.

Next, are two scenes in which we are introduced to Etain as she drinks coffee, remembers a dream about a poem by “Sam Coleridge”, and narrowly escapes an explosion (unfazed). Additionally, we are also introduced to a painter and his talking dog. This painter, the reader comes to learn, has a mysterious “family room” that encloses a pool and displays already familiar framed sigils of the Endless.

The last sequence takes place as Morpheus and Delirium travel, first in an airplane (where they’re mistaken for movie or rock stars) and then in a “classic” car.

(#44) Chapter 4

FOUR: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SKY – A BEAR AND HIS SHADOW – DEPARTED SECRETS – “TWINKLE’S A NICE WORD. SO’S VIRIDIAN.” THREE KEYS – A TREATISE ON OPTICS – THE PERILS OF SMOKING IN BED?

A Lapp Alder Man uneasily observes the Northern nights and the Midnight Sun before performing a ritual in which he becomes a shadow-less bear and his shadow assumes his human form.

A distraught son reveals to the Siblings that the Bernie Capax they seek is not only recently deceased, but lived a mysterious second-life of ancient gold, drugs, weapons, fake documents, and classic paintings. Upon leaving, Ruby, their chauffer, insists on stopping to rest. Delirium makes bubbles, finds “The Dancing Woman”, and the narrator extensively describes Ruby.

Morpheus flashes back to the late 17th century, when he, accompanied by the Corinthian, meets his brother in England. The three enter the laboratory of Isaac Newton, who is dissecting an orangutan, and the three discuss how humans have begun to “reorganize their lives on principles of reason”. To Morpheus, this is a trifle, but the brother despairs in realizing that after the culmination of this age, follows “the age of fire and flame”.

With that dialogue, Morpheus returns to the present and this chapter ends abruptly. A fire has killed Ruby and now Delirium gets to drive.

(#45) Chapter 5

FIVE: THE THINGS WE DO TO BE LOVED - HER HANDS DO NOT GO TO THE MOON - THE DRIVING INSTRUCTOR - TIFFANY WATCHES I -WHITE KNIGHTS AND/OR POND SCUM - ARE DALMATIONS FLOWERS? - NANCY DISPLAYS HER ERUDITION - WHAM BAM THANK YOU MA'AM - TIFFANY WATCHES II

Tiffany vomits the breakfast Ishtar has made for her. Delirium's driving warrants attention from a highway patrol officer, who scolds and angers her. She punishes him by inflicting hallucinations upon him: "I think you'll have invisible insects all over you now for all your life and for ever and always." In a memorable exchange, Dream chastises her and she replies:

I don't tell you how to, um. What you do. Do it. You know.
You've done lots worse than that. Anyway. Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots.

Dream brings along Matthew, the raven, as a driving instructor.

Ishtar tells that her name "goes way back" and Tiffany tells of how her name derived from her mother's watch and complains about men, asking Ishtar about finding a good man. Ishtar responds with, "In the end we split up. Fights about his family and his job. You know how it goes." Once at the dance club, they meet up with Nancy, who describes temple prostitution and asks about the fate of gods. Ishtar replies:

Some of them die. Some of them change. And some of them just keep going. Maybe some of them even get jobs as dancers.

Ishtar is dancing when Dream, Delirium, and Matthew arrive. Dream inquires and warns Ishtar, and she reveals that she loved his brother. Dream responds:

You were the goddess of Love. I would expect nothing less of you.

As they leave, she leaves a final statement with the dance hall manager and steps on stage to dance:

I know how gods begin, Roger. We start as dreams. Then we walk out of the dreams into the land. We are worshiped and loved, and take power to ourselves. And then one day there's no one left to worship us.
And in the end, each little god and goddess takes its last journey back into dreams...and what comes after, not even we know. I'm going to dance now, I'm afraid.

The men in attendance violently orgasm/climax and the dance club explodes. Desire consoles Tiffany with a line from the Book of Job and leaves Tiffany with a coat.

(#46) Chapter 6

(#47) Chapter 7

SEVEN: COOKING CONSIDERED AS ONE OF THE FINE ARTS – “MY ENVELOPE ISN’T ANY GOOD ANYMORE” – WHERE ALL MAZES MEET – THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN – LIFE AS A GLASS OF BITTER WINE – CHERRIES ARE COUNTED, AND A BARGAIN IS MADE – AN UNLIKELY GROWTH

The creative brother and his dog discuss culinary arts.

Out of ideas, Delirium and Dream use a “Fun House” maze to walk the labyrinths into the garden of Destiny. They encounter Delight. In the garden, Destiny foreshadows “the lives” of the Endless, describes Dream’s future meeting with his ex-lover, and reminds Dream of his need of an Oracle.

In a two-page sequence Dream crumbles in anguish, Delirium briefly transforms (her eyes are one color and her speech bubbles have a white core), and then consoles Dream. She argues with Destiny:

There are things not in your book. There are paths outside this garden. You would do well to remember that. . . Coins have two sides. Destruction told us that, when he was leaving. But I knew it already. You did too.

In the next two pages, a low wind turns the pages of Destiny’s book and we see:

  • Destruction’s abdication and reactions from the Endless
  • Dream’s return just prior to his imprisonment
  • Death’s day as a mortal in China
  • A white Dream and Corinthian, Dream’s throne blooded

Dream and Delirium find their way to the temple of Orpheus, where Dream’s conversation with Orpheus is not shown. Destruction is a boat ride away and his dog greets the Siblings. The Siblings have accomplished their quest, and this chapter ends with Destruction saying:

I’ve made dinner.

(#48) Chapter 8

EIGHT: JOURNEY'S END - BRAINS, A HEART, A RIDE IN A BALLOON - DINNER - SOMETHING NEW - THE ILLUSION OF PERMANENCE - A WREATH OF BRIGHT STARS - ECHOES OF DARKNESS. UP.OUT.

The reunited siblings have dinner made by Destruction himself. Destruction reveals that he had been expecting them to come. Dream requests the removal of the dog, Barnabas, but is denied by Delirium. Delirium then goes about telling in an incoherent ramble about their all the adventures they encountered on their way to finding Destruction.

In the conversation at the table, it is revealed that Despair was once destroyed and "another aspect of one of us had to reassume the position" thereby illustrating that the Endless, in their individual forms can perish only to be reborn. It is this endless recurrence that frustrates Destruction apparently forcing him to abdicate and hence not be a part of it.

Destruction enquires as to their motives in embarking for the quest of discovering his whereabouts and demonstrates that Dream has changed as he regrets the death of a human mortal who had aided him in his journey. Dream, however, denies that he has changed and again shows his disapproval of Destruction's desertion of his responsibilities. Destruction counters that his realm does not need him and thus the Endless themselves are not ultimately required.

Destruction tells the two of his activities in the three centuries since he had left. He also reveals that the accidents and misfortunes that fell on the pursuers were because of a number of safeguards that he had placed on the way.

Destruction confesses that he did not feel responsible for his realm and hence disillusioned with his role. As he takes them outside, he recalls a meeting with Death where she tells him that everything is already known to all living beings but they deliberately choose to ignore it for the fear of the magnitude of the revelation that would occur.

Destruction then explains that the sole reason for his existence, in his opinion, is to define the opposite of what the realm they rule over thereby giving meaning to the Universe. For example, Death defines life, Destruction defines creation and by the same token Dream defines reality. Thus, he sees that his function has already been successfully completed and hence he is required no more.

Destruction then prepares to leave them by dismantling his gallery, taking his sword and pool and giving his dog Barnabas the responsibility of looking after Delirium. He packs up the items and then leaves the two and goes on to somewhere else.

Dream then prepares to return to the temple saying:

I need to kill my son.

(#49) Chapter 9

NINE: FAREWELLS - ANSWERED PRAYERS - THE FLOWERS OF ROMANCE - JOURNEY'S END - THE GATES OF HORN - THINGS UNLOOKED FOR - BRIEF LIVES. AND A BARGAIN IS MADE – AN UNLIKELY GROWTH

Dream goes to Orpheus' temple so as to grant him his boon. Delirium briefly meets him and bids him goodbye. Orpheus tells him of his encounter with his mother and Dream's act of kindness in helping her escape again demonstrates to Dream that he has changed from before. Dream grants Orpheus the boon of Death thereby freeing him from his age-long imprisonment.

After Orpheus regrets for not listening to his father earlier, Dream then proceeds to kill him dirtying his hands with his son's blood. This is to have consequences in the future.

Dream tells Delirium that he believed Orpheus to have died a long while ago and Despair appears and concurs. Despair asks if Destruction mentioned her before leaving and is saddened that she did not get to see him one last time. Dream takes his leave and soon after Despair and Delirium both return to their respective realms.

Desire meets with Despair and they discuss the unfolded events. Desire, albeit successful in forcing Dream to murder a member of his own blood, "can't help but feel sorry for him".

Dream returns to the Dreaming and the story of how the Gates of Horn and Ivory and his helm was created from the remains of three gods that tried to invade Dream's realm. Dream charges Andros, the chief priest of Orpheus' temple, to bury the head of his deceased son.

Returning to his palace and appears changed to his own servants and even thanks them for their service, and allows Nuala to keep the pendant given to him by his recent ex-lover, though earlier Lucien had warned her Morpheus would not want any reminder to be seen in the castle. He commands Lucien, his chief servant, to find Ishtar, Destruction's ex-love and appropriately reward the other beings who helped him on his voyage while also telling others to stop hiding as the danger is over. He says that, "there is much else that needs my attention" but proceeds to rest before carrying out his duties.

The pumpkinman then talks to Lucien about their master's return.

Dream cleanses his hands of Orpheus' blood and mourns his passing. He realises that he was heartless when telling Orpheus to forget about his wife's death as he misses his son. Other minor characters, who were briefly mentioned earlier on, also mourn the passing of their loved ones thus illustrating the main theme of "Brief Lives". The lives of other characters mentioned are also discussed thus showing the impact that the entire saga causes on the people involved, a relative rarity in the other stories.

The story ends with Andros burying the head of Orpheus under a cherry tree thereby concluding the entire volume.

Issues collected

Issue Title Writer Penciller Inker Colorist Letterer Ast Editor Editor
41 Brief Lives - Chapter 1 Neil Gaiman Jill Thompson Vince Locke Daniel Vozzo Todd Klein Alisa Kwitney Karen Berger
42 Brief Lives - Chapter 2 Neil Gaiman Jill Thompson Vince Locke Daniel Vozzo Todd Klein Lisa Aufenanger Karen Berger
43 Brief Lives - Chapter 3 Neil Gaiman Jill Thompson Vince Locke Daniel Vozzo Todd Klein Lisa Aufenanger Karen Berger
44 Brief Lives - Chapter 4 Neil Gaiman Jill Thompson Vince Locke Daniel Vozzo Todd Klein Lisa Aufenanger Karen Berger
45 Brief Lives - Chapter 5 Neil Gaiman Jill Thompson Vince Locke Daniel Vozzo Todd Klein Lisa Aufenanger Karen Berger
46 Brief Lives - Chapter 6 Neil Gaiman Jill Thompson Vince Locke Daniel Vozzo Todd Klein Lisa Aufenanger Karen Berger
47 Brief Lives - Chapter 7 Neil Gaiman Jill Thompson Vince Locke / Dick Giordano Daniel Vozzo Todd Klein n/a Karen Berger
48 Brief Lives - Chapter 8 Neil Gaiman Jill Thompson Vince Locke Daniel Vozzo Todd Klein n/a Karen Berger
49 Brief Lives - Chapter 9 Neil Gaiman Jill Thompson Vince Locke Daniel Vozzo Todd Klein n/a Karen Berger

References

External links

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