The Sandman Volume 7: Brief Lives
written by Neil Gaiman
illustrated by Jill Thompson and Vince Locke
DC Comics (1993)
Okay, it's safe to say that I'm going to recommend people read these books, so let's just get that out of the way right now. These are some of the most stunning and inspiring stories in literature.
Brief Lives is a more structurally cohesive story than previous volumes in this series that read more like short story collections. In this volume, Dream (aka the Sandman) is called upon by his youngest sister, Delirium, to help her in seeking their older brother, Destruction, who has been missing for centuries. Dream is apathetic to Delirium's desperation to find Destruction, particularly as he's so busy moping around his own dream realm over a lost love that never loved him. He eventually agrees to help his flighty sister if for no other reason than to get out of the house, as it were, and take his mind off things for a while.
The family dynamic between Dream and his god-like siblings is both strained and unbreakable, and makes for even more engrossing drama than his interactions with the humans whose dreams he weaves. Delirium, Desire, Destiny, Despair, Destruction, and especially Death are all captivating when they show up in these books, and the spotlight being shone on Delirium for the first time, with her scatter-brained swings of mood and focus, and a simmering sinister edge when her mood turns dark was really enthralling. There were moments when she was as coherent as a toddler, playing with tiny chocolate people or manifesting colorful little frogs, and then there were times when she'd go absolutely manic and tear out her hair and broil with an omnipotent disdain towards everyone within reach. Just imagine a little girl being told she won't get that pony she's always wanted for her eighth birthday, then endow her with magical powers--have fun.
Initially, Dream and Delirium go on a road trip through our world in search of their brother, who has abandoned his role and taken up a life of seclusion and the arts, literally creating things for the sheer joy of it. I suppose you spend an eternity as the embodiment of Destruction, you might grow curious to see how green the grass is on the other side. The intrigue over how the people they're looking for, and the people they employ, are either going missing or dropping dead added a nice bit of mystery to the whole adventure. It was unfortunate when it got cut short about midway through, but once explained it made sense with regards to the characters and their motivations. Still, the idea of the king of dreams and queen of crazy are cruising down the highway like a couple of tourists was a very cool idea that I'd love to see explored further.
Destruction and his talking dog, Barnabas, were really fun, too. I mean, who wouldn't enjoy having a wise-ass hound to keep them company through the centuries, though I admit the mutt might wear out his welcome after a couple decades of smart-alecky retorts.
Neil Gaiman and his artist cohorts are great when it comes to these Sandman stories, but when a big story carries on over several issues and then get compiled into a volume like this, they are amazing. There are three more volumes in this series, and like Stephen King's Dark Tower series, I'm almost sad to be reaching the end of the journey. Maybe I'll just have to go back and read them again after I'm done.