Brief Lives (1994)
“What could possibly go wrong?” Is what Dream asks his butler Lucien when he is about to embark on a journey with his crazy sister Delirium to find their long lost brother Destruction. That has trouble written all over it, if you’d ask me. This volume takes us on a little dance with Dream’s family, which is always a delight. Delirium especially is a delight to read about, which is kind of tragic because she used to be Delight with a capital D until she lost her mind. She evokes pity as often as she makes us smile. And this is the funniest volume so far of the entire Sandman epic. Dream’s emotionless, deadpan mien and Delirium’s antics work together wonderfully.
Two aspects that make this issue a great one are, first, that the journey of Dream and Delirium to find their brother works like a clothes rack to hang on many little side stories about ancient gods. As D & D travel from place to place and character to character, we learn the fates of some ancient gods and what has become of them in today’s world after all their worshippers are long dead. Hey, doesn’t that remind you of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (2001)? Yeah, this series is pretty much a playground for Gaiman’s ideas that found their way into later novels.
And the second aspect is Dream’s interaction with Delirium. He has to learn to become a better big brother to her because he can be awfully dismissive and mean. He went into this journey for his own selfish reasons and never really took his chaotic sister seriously. And she’s easy to lead and to overrule. She’s vulnerable that way. But that doesn’t mean that her feelings shouldn’t be taken into account or should be lied to. And this quest to find their brother is another instance of Dream not taking someone’s feelings seriously because his brother doesn’t want to be found.
The final chapters unexpectedly hit hard. Dream is forced to confront his past and take action in a way that he never would have expected when he set out on this journey. Gaiman contrasts the melodramatic way that Dream acts in the first chapters when he is rejected by a lover, with the way he closes in on himself at the end of the story when a much deeper and more personal hurt visits him. Dream truly becomes a complex, layered character in the way that Gaiman has him act so differently in these situations.
World’s End (1994)
Again a short story collection, showcasing Gaiman’s talent for storytelling. The man is a bona fine storytelling machine, seemingly effortlessly churning out tales. What connects all the stories together this time is that all the stories are told by travellers who all inexplicably ended up in the inn World’s End. Apparently, the inn exists outside space and time, and travellers caught in freak storms end up in this dimension where the inn receives them. Travellers from land and sea, from different time periods or even different universes all end up here and tell their tales while they wait out the “reality storm” outside.
The prize for weirdest story in all of Sandman goes to “The Golden Boy”, which is about an American kid named “Prez” who becomes a Messiah-like President of the United States at age 20. As president, he’s being harassed by “Boss Smiley”, a demonic man with a creepy smiley face for a head. I’m not sure what to make of it, except for a melancholic feeling for what the US could have been but never became. Prez looks like a throwback to idealised young heroes from the early decades of the 20th century.
The final story is special. It ties the collection together. It gives us an enigmatic explanation of why all the travellers ended up in the inn and what the ‘reality storm” was about, and why the stories that were told were the particular ones that were told. And this explanation is like a vision for what might happen in the next volumes. It’s a chilling, impressive final story, with some impressive page-wide artwork that left me sombre and thoughtful. I am glad that this collection wasn’t just a random bundle of stories, but that the thing as a whole still ties into the great epic of the Sandman.
–> followed by Vols. 9 & 10 (“The Kindly Ones” & “The Wake”)