SANDMAN Readalong wk 5: “Brief Lives” & “Worlds’ End”

Welcome back to the Sandman Readalong. We’re in week five, reading volume 7: Brief Lives and volume 8: Worlds’ End. Note the placement of the possessive apostrophe in the last volume, that’s the end of Worlds, plural.

Again, we’re on a rigorous reading schedule. The nice thing about Sandman is that it is possible to jump in anytime. There’s enough backstory given, or enough info out in the world (or you could just ask this particular blogger) to give you what you need to dive in anytime. And you really should, because this comic book series, Sandman by Neil Gaiman, is a wondrous thing. Not flawless, mind you, not from the pen of a god, though many fans pedestal-ize him. But still, tremendous and awesome, in the full meanings of those words.


Brief Lives is a road trip story, primarily focused on Delirium’s quest to find her brother Destruction, who abandoned his realm 300 years ago, on the verge of Newton’s science and question “are not light and gross bodies intraconvertible?”

The art is by Jill Thompson, who draws herself in the character Etain of the Second Look. (What does that MEAN, of the second look?) We first saw her work in the story “Parliament of Rooks” from Fables and Reflections. Thompson’s Delirium is younger and more childlike than the version we saw at the start of Season of Mists.

The first time I read the series, when it came out in the 90’s, I was fixated on the backstory of how Delight become Delirium. It was one of the questions I asked Gaiman when I went to my first signing (which I chronicled in My Neil Gaiman story), and one he brushed off. “Oh, someone else is going to write that sometime.”

But in the notes he gives in Season of Mists, which I read either in Hy Bender’s excellent Sandman Companion, or the, to me, less useful Annotated Sandman, Gaiman notes that Delirium is a pre-adolescent urchin, the kind who experiments with sexuality, clubs, and drugs before she’s whatever ready might mean. Once I read that description, I no longer wondered. Of course, I thought. Delirium is what happens to any delightful girl who gets shown too much too fast.

In Thompson’s hands and in Gaiman’s version for this story, she’s cuter and funnier. In fact, she gets most of the best lines. It’s hard to choose just one to quote. When the receptionist asks for a name, and she responds in surprise that the receptionist doesn’t have a name, that she wouldn’t want hers (Delirium’s, that is), and this is just before she starts summoning colored frogs, one of my favorite moments of the series. Then when she asks if Dream ever spends time thinking of ice cream flavors like telephone or green-mouse flavors. Later, when she says she’s going to grow up to be a kangaroo. But if I have to pick one, I’ll go with the one that illustrates the center of this story and maybe the series:

Delirium: Um. Whats the name of the word for things not being the same always. You know, I’m sure there is one. Isn’t there? There must be a word for it…the thing that let’s you know TIME is happening. Is there a word?

Dream: Change.

Poor Ruby. Poor Bernie Capax. Poor confused Danny Capax, eh? So much death throughout, but then again, as the lady says, we get what everyone gets, right? A lifetime. And no matter how much it is, they all feel brief and precious.

The character who has the healthiest view of life, probably is Andros, who always notices it’s a beautiful day. He’s the caretaker of Orpheus, who longs, like Rainie Blackwell, for death.

In the end, Dream makes a momentous decision, one that will have repercussions we see in the next volume and beyond.

Gaiman sneaks in yet another reference to the wizard of Oz (among a ZILLION other references, which are like delightful treats throughout that enhance the reading experience, but aren’t necessary to it), when Destruction asks whether they wants a heart, a brain, or a balloon ride. He gets the balloon ride into the sky by himself, while Delirium gets a brain in Barnabas and Dream gets a heart, one that he has not shown too often. (Though his apology to Delirium earlier in this story, and when he admits he went with her at first so he could do an earthly drive by of the lover who left and made him so delightfully Morrissey-ish at the beginning, what with the rain on the balcony are both lovely moments.)

OK, on, on, on to the next one, as the Foo Fighters sing.


Volume 8, World’s End. This is a great example of why I’m baffled when people say of the Sandman series, “I don’t like the art.” WTF? There are like twenty different artists in this one short volume! You can’t dislike ALL of them!

So here’s a question for you, kind readers. Who’s your favorite inker in this volume?

I can’t decide. I love Allred’s iconic Prez story, plus Zulli’s spread of the sea monster, plus the 14-15, and 16-17 spreads of the last issue #56, (note how there are an unprecedented THREE full spreads in this collection.) and am at my satellite office and didn’t bring the Bender book, so I don’t have the artist for those pages.

Gaiman is doing an homage to Chaucer (who appeared earlier in “Men of Good Fortune”) with travelers telling tales. Somewhere else in the past I read that it was also an homage to Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, which I subsequently read and didn’t love and can’t recall if I found a connection. Here, let me go check… AHA. From 2008, my comments on If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller.

There are stories within stories within stories, but perhaps my favorite is the one that is ostensibly NOT a story, Charlene’s after she notes this about the previous stories:

Charlene: There aren’t any WOMEN in these stories. Did anyone else notice that?

Jim“: But, well, what about me, missie? There’s ME. There was MY story. That was a woman’s story.

Charlene: Oh, PLEASE. Look, girl, the whole POINT of your story is that there WASN’T a WOMAN in it. Just a ship full of sailors and a giant dick thrusting out of the ocean…I mean, there aren’t any real women in any of the stories I’VE heard tonight. We’re just pretty figures in the background to be loved or avoided or obeyed or…whatever.

Charlene goes on to tell a heartbreaking and utterly plausible story of her mundane life. In the end, she chooses to stay. I gotta say, Charlene is right about the Boys-Own nature of the tales, and having her stay to be a domestic sticks in my craw. Just because Gaiman acknowledges there are no women in the stories, doesn’t absolve him of the lack, and making her a domestic? Works my nerves, it does.

So, that’s more than enough from me. Join us next Monday for the longest arc of the series, volume 9 The Kindly Ones. (And speaking of art that people hate, whooee. I don’t, but MANY did.)

You can comment here, or tweet with the hashtag #SandMN.

What did everyone else think?

Previous posts:

Sandman Readalong week four: link

Sandman Readalong week three: link

Sandman Readalong week two: link

Sandman Readalong week one: link

Sandman Readalong schedule: link

6 Responses to “SANDMAN Readalong wk 5: “Brief Lives” & “Worlds’ End””

  1. Jeff K Says:

    Love this, thanks for making it clear: Gaiman sneaks in yet another reference to the wizard of Oz (among a ZILLION other references, which are like delightful treats throughout that enhance the reading experience, but aren’t necessary to it), when Destruction asks whether they wants a heart, a brain, or a balloon ride. He gets the balloon ride into the sky by himself, while Delirium gets a brain in Barnabas and Dream gets a heart, one that he has not shown too often.

    One of my favorite volumes so far, tied for first.

  2. girldetective Says:

    Brief Lives has a lot of humor, courtesy of Delirium and Barnabas, a lot of personality courtesy of Destruction, plus Dream is becoming less of an a$$hole. All of these, plus the consistency of having one artist for all the issues, make this one a winner for me.

  3. Jeff K Says:

    Have been a big fan of Allred’s art for a while, so excited to find him in Sandman. Loved that story. Worlds’ End kept getting better. The dick line is one of the best.

  4. girldetective Says:

    Jeff, did you read iZombie? Early Madman is also very good. I wasn’t such a fan of Red Rocket 7, though the art is always good. Can you refresh my memory as to page/issue of Dick joke, is it when Charlene lets loose about the sea serpent? Tee hee.

  5. Rox Says:

    I LOVED THE SEA MONSTER! I finally read the second half of this post now that I’ve finished Worlds’ End. Seriously, I turned that page and it blew my mind. I (unsurprisingly) appreciated the commentary about the lack of women in the stories as well, and was hoping that the next one would be from a woman! Charlene kind of told us about herself, but it wasn’t a story in the way that the other stories were. I did really like how the stories seemed to fill out some of our knowledge of other realms or characters a little, and that they were connected to the larger narrative but fun and short little tales.

  6. girldetective Says:

    Gaiman said he tried to alternate men’s stories and women’s stories in the collection/arcs, and while The Kindly Ones is technically women driven, it feels extremely cruel and blame-y to women. Wondering perhaps if it coincided with the end of Gaiman’s marriage.