The Sandman Reader VIII: Brief Lives

Posted on Posted in Comic Books, Reviews/Commentary

“Brief Lives” could be summarized as a road trip involving Morpheus and his sister Delirium searching for their lost brother Destruction. Destruction had been only previously referenced in passing during gatherings of the Endless, but he would end up being a central character in “Brief Lives.”

The nine issues in this story arc are split into groupings of two four-issue mini-arcs and an epilogue. Readers might note some thematic parallels between each of the four issues if comparing parts to one another.

Themes included eyes and seeing, referenced in both the dialogue and in close-ups in the art. Example of this reference in the dialogue to keep in mind would be Delirium making frequent reference to eye parts and Despair maiming an eye at one point. The title itself – “Brief Lives” – hints at a theme regarding even the Endless having life spans.

Destruction finally made an appearance during this story arc and personified the idea of change. Also, this was the first storyline to really get at how Morpheus’s imprisonment had changed him and that information would fuel the conclusion of the series.

Jill Thompson was the artist on all nine issues of this arc. She provided a style that fit well with the series, keeping a certain consistency that was sometimes referential to classic art of the past.


 

Sandman #41: “Brief Lives – Chapter 1”
September 1992
Story Artist: Jill Thompson (penciller), Vince Locke (inker)

Issue #41 opened with Morpheus’s son Orpheus making an appearance as his head was guarded by modern-day monks on the small island of Naxos off of Greece. The current caretaker was Andros Rhodocanakis, the latest in a line of protectors. Johanna Constantine had a grave that was also on the island and Andros paid it his respect. Johanna had, of course, rescued Orpheus back in issue #29.

Delirium took center stage for most of the issue though and readers should take note that she spends virtually the entire story talking like someone might talk if they were literally delirious. Or on drugs. Her demeanor was usually sympathetic and modestly upbeat, highlighted by dialogue balloons that were always colored in rainbows.

Desire found Delirium wandering in London, where she had been living on the streets with a woman named Mary Canby. Canby had been homeless since her son died in an unexplained industrial accident and Canby seemed to doubt this official cause of death.

The pair headed back to Desire’s domain where Delirium tries to get a disinterested Desire to help find their brother Destruction. When Desire was less-than-receptive to the idea, Delirium next went to Despair for assistance and encountered similar disinterest. Readers learned that Despair did secretly miss Destruction though, as related via flashback to the plague in seventeenth century London recalling when the two were last together.

The issue ended on an ominous note, as both Desire and Despair had concerns regarding potential repercussions of Delirium’s quest. Destruction had departed Despair in London with the statement that the next time they would meet would be the last time.

 

Sandman #42: “Brief Lives – Chapter 2”
October 1992
Story Artist: Jill Thompson (penciller), Vince Locke (inker)

Delirium found a more-receptive sibling in Morpheus when she visited him in issue #42.

When Delirium visited her brother, readers were left disoriented by Morpheus being preoccupied with heartbreak inflicted on him by a recent love interest. The unrevealed love interest had put Morpheus into a state of depression after breaking up with him and Delirium had entered the aftermath. While the details of the romance remained unexplained, some speculated that the love in question was Thessaly due to the romance apparently having happened in the waking world.

Before Morpheus agreed to help Delirium find Destruction, he first consulted Desire to see if she was manipulating Delirium. Desire claimed to not be involved in Delirium’s quest for Destruction while also denying having any involvement in breaking up Morpheus’s recent relationship.

Morpheus considered the situation further while Delirium reflected on a past time when she was known as delight. That remembrance was interrupted when Morpheus ultimately agreed to help Delirium. That said, Morpheus confided to Lucien that he didn’t expect that the quest would actually be successful in finding Destruction.

 

Sandman #43: “Brief Lives – Chapter 3”
November 1992
Story Artist: Jill Thompson (penciller), Vince Locke (inker)

The road trip for Morpheus and Delirium ensued in issue #43, with the pair heading to Earth.

The concept of long-lived beings being embedded amongst those of us on Earth was entertainingly illustrated for readers at the beginning of the issue with the fluke death of Bernie Capax. Capax was killed after a brick wall fell onto him, leaving him miffed that he would die under such fluky circumstances after having lived for roughly 1500 years. Death consoled him by simply telling him that he had lived a lifetime.

Morpheus and Delirium arrived in Dublin, Ireland with Morpheus’s intention of meeting with a man named Pharamond. Pharamond was a forgotten god who ran what was referred to as transportation under the alias Mr. Farrell. A humorous exchange ensued with Farrell’s receptionist until he finally granted Morpheus and Delirium an audience. After it became clear that Morpheus was collecting on a past favor, Farrell agreed to handle all transportation needs for the duo while they were on Earth.

Delirium supplied a list of Destruction’s potential associates and Farrell booked travel for Morpheus to go with Delirium to visit the first person on the list.

Readers then checked in with a woman named Etain who had been mentioned as being further down on Morpheus’s travel list. She woke up from a dream to the smell of gas in her apartment and managed to vacate the building just ahead of an explosion that destroyed her apartment.

At the same time, Destruction was shown to viewers as hiding out with a hilariously-honest dog named Barnabus. After Barnabus gave a harsh critique of Destruction’s painting ability, Destruction’s gallery pool warned him of pending trouble.

Morpheus and Delirium ended the issue with an amusing sequence on a commercial airline flight to the United States. Morpheus spent the flight time bluntly answering a girl’s whimsical questions about dreams, with her unknowingly receiving answers from a true authority on the subject. The issue concluded with a woman named Ruby meeting Morpheus and Delirium at the airport after their plane landed. They sent off to meet the lawyer Bernie Capax, seemingly unaware that Capax had recently died.

There were some interesting trivia bits during this opening overview of long-living people. One tidbit involved reference to a historical Atlantis that might have mirrored the history of Atlantis that was established around the time of this issue’s publication by writer Peter David in his series “The Atlantis Chronicles.” The apartment where Etain was living apparently had a layout similar to the one where artist Jill Thompson lived at the time. Etain’s basic look also appeared to be based on Thompson’s appearance.

Barnabas the dog was shown as a companion to Destruction, the name reminding readers of Barnabas from early Christian history when a key follower of Paul held that same name. Also note that Delirium and Morpheus briefly crossed paths with a girl named Chloe Russell in this issue, with her popping up a couple of further times in this story arc.

 

Sandman #44: “Brief Lives – Chapter 4”
December 1992
Story Artist: Jill Thompson (penciller), Vince Locke (inker)

The Corinthian made his big return in issue #44, but that return amounted to little more than a flashback cameo. The issue opened with another initially-unclear introduction to a new character. That character was Leib Olmai, a Lapp Alder Man living in northern Scandinavia who check on traps that he had set. One of the traps was triggered and Leib took that as a cue to transform himself into a bear.

At the same time, Morpheus and Delirium learned about the fate of the late Bernie Capax from Capax’s son. The son had assumed his father to be a boring man and, after his death, was coming to terms with many curiosities that had been left behind. Of course, the son didn’t know that his father had been 1500 years old. The traveling sibling things set out to visit Etain, the next person on their list. Their driver, Ruby, insisted on stopping at a motel for the night while still en route to Etain.

Delirium mentally reached out to those on her list, confirming that Capax was dead while also sensing Lieb Olmai and a stripper. The stripper was given forewarning that she would soon have visitors.

Meanwhile, Morpheus reached out to Lucien to request that Lucien investigate if someone might be preventing Destruction from being found. Morpheus then recalled a time in the distant past when he was walking down a primitive street with Destruction, with a brief cameo by the Corinthian on that street. This flashback scene was most notable for the foreshadowing of his disappearance that resulted from a revelation that humanity was entering the age of reason and that destruction would no longer be needed.

Morpheus returned his focus to the present day to find that the motel was on fire. Ruby had supposedly fallen asleep while smoking a cigarette and she died while the motel went up in flames. Morpheus saw this unfortunate turn as likely being another example of someone trying to prevent the siblings from finding Destruction.

 

Sandman #45: “Brief Lives – Chapter 5”
January 1993
Story Artist: Jill Thompson (penciller), Vince Locke (inker)

Issue #45 largely took place at a strip club, with Morpheus and Delirium arriving there via car after a comedy of errors. Delirium first found herself being reprimanded by a police officer whom she amusingly cursed with believing that he was covered by invisible bugs. Matthew the Raven then found himself drafted onto the road trip to give driving instructions while reminding everything that he had died of drunken driving when previously living as a human.

Before that group arrived at the story’s strip club location, readers caught up with two strippers who had briefly been seen in the prior issue. Tiffany was ill from the prior night and her co-worker Ishtar tried to help her become well enough to come to work that evening. Ishtar clearly had some secrets to her, her dancing being praised by Tiffany even if Ishtar insisted that she was actually showing restraint to the strip club’s customers.

Ishtar tells Tiffany and another co-worker, Nancy about a time when women would prostitute themselves at a temple as part of a mandatory ritual for all women to endure. When Morpheus, Delirium, and Matthew arrived at the strip club, Morpheus held a private meeting with Ishtar. Readers learned that Ishtar was an old girlfriend of Destruction but that she no longer knew where Destruction might be located. The conversation was rather tepid given that Morpheus’s disapproving of Ishtar had led to Destruction breaking up with her.

After Morpheus and his party departed the club, Ishtar decided to dance to her full potential. In doing so, she destroyed the strip club and killed most of those who were inside. Tiffany managed to safely get away from the club. Desire then appeared outside the destroyed club with Tiffany and offered her a jacket.

Within the span of this single issue, readers learned a fair amount about the lives of both Tiffany and Ishtar. Both appeared to be tragic figures in their own ways. Tiffany had chosen her stage name after being mesmerized by her mother’s Tiffany-branded watch, a watch that she stole from her mother when she left home and that was stolen from her by a boyfriend. Tiffany’s life had involved a series of bad relationships and being belittled from those around her. She had a subtle drug problem and confidence issues.

Ishtar appeared to represent a positive influence in Tiffany’s life. She was a goddess from Babylonian mythology. The temple story mentioned by Ishtar had a historical basis in the Adonis/Tammzu cult that operated out of the Phoenician city of Byblus, although scholars have pointed out that the source for the tale was the disputed ‘historian’ Herodotus. Ishtar’s mythical story involved being with a King who served what was effectively a one-year term before being sacrificed.

 

Sandman #46: “Brief Lives – Chapter 6”
February 1993
Story Artist: Jill Thompson (penciller), Vince Locke (inker)

Issue #46 opened with a brief check on Destruction and Barnabus, with the dog this time being critical of Destruction’s ability to write poetry. Destruction shared his attitude regarding not wanting to be reunited with his family.

Elsewhere, Morpheus decided to call off the search for Destruction and returned alone to his domain. After apologizing to Pharamond for the inadvertent death of Ruby, Morpheus next visited with the Egyptian cat goddess Bast in a dream. Bast, who had last been seen in issue #27, had an interestingly flirty relationship with Morpheus. Bast admitted that her claim of knowing Destruction’s location two years prior was a lie and that she’d only heard about his last sighting being in Paris sixty years ago. After the dream ended, Bast was revealed to be yet-another tragic fallen god who only rarely found people worshiping to her. Specifically, she was called upon in a scene to help a cat die and that cat was likely the cat of a minor character named Chloe Russell who had appeared briefly in issue #43. The cat would later show up again in issue #49.

Morpheus then followed up with Lucien regarding the mysterious deaths of Destruction’s associates on Earth. Unfortunately, Lucien had no update for Morpheus but sharp-eyed readers would have noticed never-existed books again being referenced in the character’s library. The little gags involving amusing never-existed books would continue to be a re-occurring treat.

Morpheus then met with Death after noticing that Delirium had closed her domain to visitors. Death was upset with Morpheus for his treatment of Delirium and Morpheus agreed to patch up the relationship with his sister. Morpheus then visited with Delirium and delivered an apology. Morpheus had only joined Delirium on Earth in hopes of being reunited with the woman who had recently broken up with him. When the search for Destruction had turned dangerous, Morpheus felt it prudent to call of the search. However, he had since decided that the search needed to resume with Delirium again serving as his partner.

 

Sandman #47: “Brief Lives – Chapter 7”
March 1993
Story Artist: Jill Thompson (penciller), Vince Locke, Dick Giordano (inker)

The big family reunion that readers had been anticipating finally came to fruition in issue #47. Destruction began cooking food while Barnabus mocked his prior attempt at sculpture. Readers might have found it curious that Destruction fed chocolate to Barnabus since that food has an element in it that could cause dogs to have a heart attack. Obviously Barnabus was immune to that problem.

Morpheus and Delirium visited their sibling Destiny after realizing that their previous list of leads was no longer valid. Destiny informed Morpheus that the quest for Destruction would have negative consequences for Morpheus. He also told Morpheus and his recent lover had never loved him and that the romance would never be rekindled. Finally, Morpheus was told to visit an oracle in their family for direction and Morpheus deduced that the oracle in question was his son Orpheus.

Morpheus and Delirium then traveled to the Greek island where Orpheus’s head was being guarded that readers had seen back in issue #41. Orpheus’s guardians had an amusing exchange with Morpheus before he was allowed to visit his son, essentially giving little time to the guards.

Morpheus visited his son without readers being privy to their exchange, but Morpheus later returned to Delirium with the needed information regarding Destruction’s location. Readers were left in the dark on the matter, but Morpheus did admit to Delirium that his interaction with Orpheus had come at an ambiguous cost.

The son of one of Orpheus’s guardians rowed Morpheus and Delirium to a nearby island where Destruction happened to be living. Destruction gave his sibling a welcome and extended to them an offer to join him for dinner.

 

Sandman #48: “Brief Lives – Chapter 8”
April 1993
Story Artist: Jill Thompson (penciller), Vince Locke (inker)

An awkward dinner meal was the centerpiece of issue #48, although both Morpheus and Delirium showed no interest in the meal that Destruction had prepared for them in the prior issue. Delirium issued a confusing ramble that recapped the events of the prior seven issues while likely only making sense to either Morpheus or readers. One interesting note about that recap was that Delirium’s appearance changed from panel to panel to match her appearance at point in the story that she was relating.

Destruction asked both of his sibling what they want from him and Delirium admits that she would like him to return to his role. Morpheus admitted that he finished the search as a way to honor the death of Ruby, a statement that struck Delirium as a sign of Morpheus exhibiting change in his life.

Destruction explains that he doesn’t intend to return to his role due to feeling that the Endless weren’t actually necessary to their domains. Destruction in the universe occurred regardless of Destruction’s influence. Destruction then decides to leave Earth as a way to again hide from his family. He takes with him only a few belongings while gifting Barnabus to Delirium. That pairing would turn out to be just as comedic amusing as Barnabus’s pairing with Destruction, although the dog would end up being more supportive than sassy toward Delirium. Destruction then flew off into the stars, an event foreshadowed by an impressive two-page spread of the night sky earlier in the story.

Delirium and Barnabus returned to Delirium’s domain but readers were left to consider the haunting revelation that Morpheus would next need to kill his son Orpheus. One odd tidbit for readers was the appearance of Destruction on the planet Krypton in what was considered a pre-”Crisis on Infinite Earths” timeframe.

 

Sandman #49: “Brief Lives – Chapter 9”
May 1993
Story Artist: Jill Thompson (penciller), Vince Locke (inker)

Issue #49 provided Gaiman with an opportunity to revisit the major characters that had popped up during “Brief Lives.” Orpheus was showing thinking about his late-wife Eurydice, their tragic story having been related to readers in the “Sandman” Special #1.

Morpheus was shown returning to Orpheus’s temple to keep the promise that he’d apparently made to his son back in issue #47. The deal that Morpheus had struck in exchange for Destruction’s location involved his agreeing to kill Orpheus. Orpheus was apparently no longer interested in living as simply a head, although he admitted to some hesitation when the final moment came for him to die. In what was arguably the most-unsettling scene in the series us far, Morpheus picked up Orpheus’s head and killed him with his bare hands. When Morpheus left Orpheus’s temple, he had bright red blood on his hands.

Delirium was waiting for Morpheus outside the temple and Despair soon joined them to learn of the visit with Destruction. Despair regretted not joining the siblings on their quest, not surprising given her name, When Despair did return to her domain though, readers learned that her twin Desire was waiting for her. Desire had warned Morpheus that the quest would lead to the spilling of family blood but she didn’t expect things to turn out as they did. The turn of events worried the twins.

Morpheus was unusually polite after returning to his domain, contemplating that he had gotten over his lover but that he was instead anguished over the death of his son. He send a dream message to Andros Rhodocanakis to release the man from their longtime family duty as Orpheus’s guardians. He also thanked Nuala the faerie and other servants in his domain for their service. Finally, he asked for Lucien to send rewards to those who had helped him find Destruction.

Morpheus washed Orpheus’s blood from his hands while in the privacy of his quarters and caught a haunting image of his son in the water of the washing basin.

While Morpheus grieved for his son, readers were shown the epilogues of the fates of several characters from the story. First, the briefly-glimpsed homeless woman Mary Canby from issue #41 was shown throwing bottles at the gravestone of her son Steven.

Then, Chloe Russell from issue #43 was shown receiving a new cat that was likely foreshadowed in the cat death mentioned in issue #46. Danny Capax from issue #44 appeared as he burned some of his father’s belongings, while keeping some of the more-useful curiosities that his long-lived father left behind.

Tom Flaherty, the cursed police officer from issue #45 was shown to still be haunted by the belief that insects were crawling all over his body. One had to hope, for his sake, that he would be remembered and cured at some point by Morpheus but the odds of that occurring seemed slim. Tiffany, the stripper featured in issue #45, appeared on a television talk show where she said that she had been saved by an angel who gave her a valuable jacket. This scene suggested that Tiffany had found religion in comedic fashion in the aftermath of Ishtar’s destruction of the strip club.

The final characters shown were Andros and his family at the burial of Orpheus’s head. The head was being buried near a cherry tree and Andros somehow knew that his long life would be over before that tree blossomed again.


 

A powerful element of “Brief Lives” was its point of reminding readers that the Endless weren’t all eternally immortal. Humans might have a short lifespan by the standards of the Endless or fallen gods, but the end of the current universe would bring an end to everyone save for perhaps Destiny.

Change was the arc’s repeatedly-stated main theme though, with Morpheus told by both Orpheus and Destruction that he had changed since his imprisonment at the start of the “Sandman” series. Readers couldn’t help but notice that the character had softened in some respects over Gaiman’s various story arcs.

“Brief Lives” started off with an oddly disjointed feel and the slow burn of a plot, not at all unlike most of Gaiman’s earlier “Sandman” arcs. It was successful in showing change in the character of Morpheus though and the final third of the arc was particularly strong in delivering various payoffs. The death of Orpheus would have repercussions that readers were not yet fully aware of, but before those consequences would become known readers would take a detour back into a series of largely stand-alone stories.

 

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