Reading “Brief Lives – Chapter 3”

If you simply list out the events of issue #43 of The Sandman, you’ll find that there’s really not very much that happens.  Dream and Delirium arrange transportation for themselves in the waking world.  A couple of people who are potential leads on Destruction’s whereabouts suffer unexplained, violent accidents (one survives, but the other doesn’t; the end result, their exit from the story, is the same).  We meet Destruction in the present and learn that he’s living in isolation with a talking dog, and he is a bad artist.

That’s pretty much it.

I’ve re-read this issue about three times since I set out to write this blog post, and I’m really struggling to come up with anything hugely interesting to say.  The last issue was so rich with character growth for Dream and Delirium, but there’s really nothing new to say about them here.  Dream has his standard aloof disdain for mortals that get in his way (though we do get to see him being exceptionally kind to a girl on an airplane), and Delirium mostly acts like the easily distracted child that she is.  Destruction’s appearance here is useful for showing the reader that he’s quite a friendly person with an easygoing demeanor (he’s also very good at accepting criticism, at least from his dog Barnabas).  There’s more to Destruction than what we see here, but that’s best left for discussion after we’ve spent more time with him.  For now, the most noteworthy thing is that the activity we see him engaged in is one of creation, which will get explored more in depth later.

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Bernie has a pretty bad day. (Artwork by Jill Thompson and Vincent Locke)

A full third of the issue’s page count is devoted to the two minor characters, Bernie Capax and Etain of the Second Look.  Both Bernie and Etain are long-lived mortals (the issue begins with a page explaining the rarity of such individuals) who presumably know something about Destruction.  Bernie’s been alive for fifteen thousand years, and he remembers hunting woolly mammoths as a young man.  He dies when a wall collapses and falls on him.  Etain’s age is less clear, but she’s at least been around for a couple hundred years (she knew Samuel Taylor Coleridge).  She narrowly escapes a gas leak explosion in her apartment.  We’ll see in the coming issues that this apparently random misfortune is something of a running motif.  Gaiman’s building a catalog of outlooks on mortality, and the perspective put forth here with Bernie and Etain is that mortals always wish they’d had more time when death comes for them (it’s a little on the nose, but Bernie’s final words before the accident are a desperate cry of “Not yet…”).  It fits in well with the sense of desperation for meaning that the chocolate people Delirium leaves on her plate in the previous issue represent.

The next issue promises to be a little more engaging, with a reminiscence of Destruction by Dream and a more thorough exploration of Bernie’s life.

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