Welcome back once again to the Dreaming, where we continue our jaunt through Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. The Netflix adaptation looms, lighting a fire under my ass to plow through the remainder of the series so I know all there is to know about Morpheus and his entourage of mystical friends and enemies. What started as an attempt to get a comic baseline has apparently evolved into a completionist obsession
Sandman Volume 7: Brief Lives brings us on a road trip with two of the Endless: Morpheus and his little sister, Delirium. Delirium seeks Destruction, their long-lost brother. Destruction was the only one of the Endless to treat her with kindness, and Delirium wishes to reconnect with him. She first goes to Despair and Desire, hoping they’ll join her on her quest, though they both decline. But Morpheus, aka Dream, is hurting on the heels of a break-up and agrees to join her, though with ulterior motives. As they venture through the Waking world, the people they encounter along the way meet untimely deaths, derailing their trip. But throughout, brother and sister begin to understand one another in new, meaningful ways.
Brief Lives now sits among my favorite Sandman stories. Gaiman treats us to a road trip with Dream and Delirium. It’s everything Marvel’s Eternals thought it was, only it’s actually worthwhile. The opening scenes of Brief Lives paint Delirium as somewhat of a pariah, a pest to the other Endless. By nature, Delirium is chaotic and unpredictable, sometimes unable to hold herself together (literally) for long stretches. Her characterization is a marvel to behold here, both in storytelling and in the book’s art. Delirium’s speech bubbles are always tinged with a cacophony of color, and the lettering undulates in size. Delirium’s looks morph at a moment’s notice. Delirium feels alone, because the Endless treat her as a forgettable youngest sibling, and the only person who stood up for her, Destruction, is hidden away in some far corner of the world.
Compare Delirium to Dream, and the contrast is stark. Dream is black and white, a stoic lord of his domain. His speech bubbles are pitch black with white text. He is the embodiment of sleep and the things our brain conjures during slumber. He is often painted as cold and calculating, justifiably so. But when he can’t escape a sad funk after a relationship ends, he agrees to journey the world with Delirium, even after Despair and Desire cast her aside.
Together, Dream and Delirium make for an intriguing search team along the road to find Destruction. Dream’s logical and actionable advice contrasts with Delirium’s chaotic approach. At one point, this leads to Delirium commandeering a car and driving down the wrong side of the highway, and some hilarious art of Morpheus’ face as he watches from the passenger seat.
As Dream and Delirium pursue their brother, we get small moments alone with Destruction and his canine-looking companion, Barnabus. It’s a portrait of a man who has abandoned the purpose assigned to him in favor of simple joys. In opposition to his role among the endless, Destruction carves statues, cooks meals, paints. He creates art, free from the shackles of his presumed role among the god-like siblings he has left behind. Throughout, it feels like Destruction is waiting for something, as if he knows someone seeks him.
These three characters, seen through the filter of their respective journeys, offer new insights into Neil Gaiman’s Sandman pantheon. We see Morpheus develop empathy for his struggling family member. We see Delirium single-mindedly pursuing a tangible goal. We watch Destruction forgo his assigned role and enjoy a life of simple pleasures. Brief Lives isn’t a smack-pow-bang comic book story. It’s a rumination on understanding who you are and what drives you to action. It’s a quiet, smart tale. And among the Sandman stories I’ve experienced so far, it’s among my favorites.