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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 18, 2001
The only reason I gave this story 5 stars is because there wasn't six, or ten, or a hundred available as choices.
Simply put, the Sandman is one of the greatest, most involving, most touching, (even for a hard to touch person such as myself) work of literature (yes, despite being a mere comic book it is literature, or as Peter Stuab says, nothing is) in the past century, perhaps in the past several centuries.
And Brief Lives is the best volume in the Sandman series, hands down.
The story, plot wise, is about a quest to find a missing brother.
The story is really about so many things more; about death, fate, redemption, mercy, terrible kindness, the meddling of gods and endless in human affairs, what happens to a family when the person that is its glue leaves, what it means to have a conscience, pride, honor, and much more.
Brief Lives is, even more than the other Sandman volumes, rich with beauty, imagery, imagination, and scenes that fire the imagination and touch the heart. Who cannot be moved by the anguish of Delirium and Despair, who is not awestruck by the scenes in the garden of Destiny or the conversation with Destruction, who is not genuinely saddened by the death of Orpheus and at Dream's terrible grief after the act, and who cannot be uplifted by the ending and the bond of love between Orpheus and his servant.
As an aspiring writer, I can honestly say that Brief Lives is both an inspiration and a goal; I hope that I may be able to write a single work that compares to it.
I will admit to being initially reluctant to pick up Brief Lives, perhaps because I sensed where Gaiman would take the Sandman in the last four issues, the inevitable turn to tragedy. Brief Lives is like the last warm day before winter or the last flash of light and color at sunset. The course of the Sandman was always destined to be a tragic one, and Brief Lives is the beginning of the end, the movement from dreamy stories to true tragedy, and watching it happen to an incredible character like Dream only makes it that much more affecting. Towards the end of the story, Desire, foretelling the future, says that Dream was wreck waiting to happen, and that has been true. Dream has been a wreck waiting to happen since he escaped his captivity, or maybe since Orpheus went down to Hades, or maybe before that. Up till now, though, there was always the chance that things would go another way, that there was a way around that destiny, but after Brief Lives, that is no longer the case. There is only one possible outcome, and it is only a matter of time.
That knowledge, heart wrenching as it is, is what makes this the best of all the Sandman series, and the best story, of any type or genre that I've read in quite some time.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2001
I have a soft spot of the Kindly Ones because that was my introduction to Neil Gaiman (I had read about him in Wizard, the monthly bible of the comic book world, but I was young, and stupid, and my ignorance kept me away from revelation), and for The Wake because Micheal Zulli's pencils are exquisite - but whenever I _need_ exactly what it is the Sandman has to offer I turn to Brief Lives.
It's the distilliation - the essence - of what Sandman is about. Some might argue that Fables and Reflections or even Dream Country would be a better representative, a series of stunning vignettes whose swirling, mythic and dream like quality (I'm thinking of the fabulous Ramadan story) are about horror, fate, the depths of humanity and all that good stuff in the great traditions of fire-side story tellers.
But Brief Lives is something even better.
As Mikal Gilmore noted in his introduction to the graphic novel edition of The Wake, one of the seminal joys of the Sandman is hearing Gaiman's voice grow clearer with each passing issue. The progression from "The Sleep of the Just" to "The Tempest" is an astounding one; watching him grow makes any burgeoning and would-be writer both jealous and elated. The entire idea of the Sandman was revolutionary and different and pregnant with greatness (yes, a dangerous term, but applicable) - but it wasn't until Brief Lives that we _really_ saw what this thing could be capable of. Some argue that point occurred in "The Sound of Her Wings" in the first story arc, or perhaps Seasons of Mists, but _anyone_ who has read Brief Lives understands the truth....
This story is breathtaking. It's a romp. It's a ride. It blows you away, grabs you, throws you down forever into the endless sky with a wild rush of words and images (the matching of Jill Thompson to this story is once more pure genius), it picks up a fatal and final inertia that doesn't slow down until the final page is turned - that is, the final page of the last issue of the series. It's from this point that the story picks up speed and urgency. Everything revolves around the central act of kindness that concludes Brief Lives, and all the tragedy and death and destruction and redemption that occur later on are merely a reflection of that single act.
This is _the_ story. Everything before was technically brilliant, possessed of a fresh and blindingly new verve that the comic books medium hadn't seen in quite some time - but it was somehow _distant_. Brief Lives is full of a passionate proximity, a feeling of the here and now, a sense of both the confusion of every day life and miraculously together with that, the grand rush of scope. This is where Gaiman gets his chops.
I can't recommend this book enough. It's got a winding, willowy wisdom (how's that for alliteration?) that stays with you beyond the waking realms, the kind of gift you return to as the years pass by, something that grows with you as oppossed to on you. Each time I read it I read something new and fresh, and each time I read it I never fail to be moved and inspired.
Brief Lives is what it's all about. Peter Straub couldn't have said it any better when he wrote in his afterword....
"If this isn't literature, nothing is."
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2000
Back in 1994, my brother was very much into comic books. Not wanting to buy my brother something wihtout buying me something, and knowing my flare for the dramatic and mythological, my father bought me one of the installments of Sandman: Brief Lives...and it changed my life forever. I hungrily started to read anything I could get my hands on by Neil Gaiman...but the haunting images and statements that I received from that book are still with me. It was the episode in which Dream comes face to face with his son after many many years...and agrees to a deadly boon. There are not enough adjectives dealing with "wonder" to describe Gaiman's work. He redefines the mythologies we are all familiar with and creates some new ones. But this is the catalyst installment...Brief Lives is when Dream truly cannot go back...when he passes the cusp of fate into the inevitable. Up until this point, Dream has a choice, but following his decisions in this book, he can no longer retreat to safety. He had become a part of my personal pantheon, as his brothers and sisters have. He's with me for the rest of my life.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2000
Delirium, the youngest of the Endless, who was once Delight, needs a change. She decides to find her missing "prodigal" brother. She begs Dream to accompany her and surprisingly, (for reasons we don't discover til later) he agrees. But their prodigal brother is none other than Destruction, and as Dream and Delirium soon learn, few can seek Destruction unscathed. One of Gaiman's many skills is the use of doublespeak, and this story is no exception. It is a brilliant interplay of past accounts and current journeys, mirroring each other.
"What's the name of the word for things not being the same always.....there must be a word for it. The thing that let's you know time is happening. Is there a word?"
"Change" replies Dream, and that is the basis for this story. It marks the realization of what Dream boths needs and yet cannot accomplish - he must change to survive, or cast about the seeds of his own future destruction.
"Brief Lives" is the glory of an already impeccable series. It is for me, the jewel in the crown of the entire Sandman saga. It manages to be haunting, thrilling and hysterical all at the same time.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Each story arch of Sandman, Neil Gaiman's adult-orientated comic book starring Morpheus, an amalgamation of morose twenty-something and Greek God, is excellent. But Brief Lives, in which Morpheus' loopy kid sister, Delirium drags him on a quest to find their long-lost brother, Destruction, may be the series' pinnacle.
This is for several reasons. Firstly, the story brings the resolution of the series' biggest mystery: the identity of the lost sibling in Morpheus' family (a group of mystic beings called the The Endless who all rule over some "realm" of consciousness) and his reason for disappearing. Yet, the collective little scenes in each Sandman story arch are always just as important as the underlining storyline itself and Brief Lives has many of the series' best little scenes: Delirium (one of Gaiman's most unforgettable characters) trying to remember the proper name of eye-gunk; Barnabas, Destruction's talking dog, slamming his paintings and poetry; Mervyn, a pumpkin-headed nightmare of Morpheus' creation, explaining why his boss is a flake.
Another reason why this may be the definitive best Sandman volume is that Jill Thompson may be the definitive Sandman artist. Thompson's simple, cartoon-ish pictures and her flair for telling facial expressions have a way of tenderly assisting the story without letting overly detailed imagery get in the way (a major problem in the Jim Lee era of comics).
But the best reason why this is the best Sandman story arch is what is at the heart of the story. Brief Lives is, godlike entities and talking animals aside, a simple, touching story of love and family. There is something about Delirium's naïve attempt to make The Endless "one big happy family again" and the tenderness and grace by which Gaiman writes it that makes Brief Lives an exceptional part of an exceptional series.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 1999
Brief Lives, the sixth volume in the momentous, blindingly brilliant Sandman series, is the best yet. Though it's really hard to imagine anything better than A Game of You, which in turn was a shock to be better than A Season of Mists, it really DOES take one step up. Gaiman was better than them all before, but now he's a leap above himself again.
In Brief Lives, Delirium, the youngest of the Endless, who was once Delight, sees the painful side of existence and concludes that it is due to the fact the the Endless are incomplete: Destruction left 300 years ago. She misses him and drags Morpheus into assisting her in finding their wayward brother. Things are never that easy, however, and they both learn quite a few valuable lessons in their travels, not least that all lives, even eternal ones, are brief and should thus be celebrated, cherished, and mourned. The whole thing is framed in two different ways of saying the same thing: "It is, of course, a miracle." and "It is going to be a beautiful day." All days are beautiful, no more and no less, and Gaiman never lets us forget it.
Though this one deals with the Endless more than usually, it is, paradoxically, the most human one so far. Everyone feels the same way that this one does.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2001
This is my first Sandman book, and it has not only hooked me onto the series, it's given me something I can't stop thinking about. The story begins with a slightly lost Delerium wandering the streets, talking to homeless people, going to night clubs, and trying to recall what the "gunky stuff in people's eyes" is called. At this night club Desire makes a very poetically laid-out first appearance, and kindly takes Del back to her/his realm. And that's when Delerium gets a funny little idea: she wants to look for Destruction. And she wants someone to come with her... The answer from Desire is very blunt: "No." And then she asks Despair: "No." Then, very reluctantly, because her big brother can be VERY scary, she asks Dream. After much hesitation, Dream says yes. As their journey through the human world takes way, we watch what is possibly the oddest possible pairing of two of the Endless traveling together, and at first it is, surprisingly, very funny, just like all of the Sandman comics tend to sneak in a little humor here and there. Though possibly Dream and Delirium themselves are unaware of it, we know that there is some bonding between the two of them, even throughout a conflict they must overcome before continuing on the journey later. The last three or four chapters are the most touching, as Dream's son Orpheus, who he has before sworn to never speak to again, is brought into the ending for a very sad conclusion. The intriguing thing about the ending is that almost all of the characters, save Destiny and Death who have nothing to hide, show us a different part of them that we haven't really seen before. Particularly Dream, who swallows his pride and does the right thing in the end, a very selfless act on his behalf. To conclude, here's a quote-one of my favorites-from Brief Lives: "Your life is your own. Your death, likewise. Always and forever, your own. Farewell..."
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2000
Delirium, the youngest of the Endless, who was once Delight, needs a change. She decides to find her missing "prodigal" brother. She begs Dream to accompany her and surprisingly, (for reasons we don't discover til later) he agrees. But their prodigal brother is none other than Destruction, and as Dream and Delirium soon learn, few can seek Destruction unscathed. One of Gaiman's many skills is the use of doublespeak, and this story is no exception. It is a brilliant interplay of past accounts and current journeys, mirroring each other.
"What's the name of the word for things not being the same always.....there must be a word for it. The thing that let's you know time is happening. Is there a word?"
"Change" replies Dream, and that is the basis for this story. It marks the realization of what Dream boths needs and yet cannot accomplish - he must change to survive, or cast about the seeds of his own future destruction.
"Brief Lives" is the glory of an already impeccable series. It is for me, the jewel in the crown of the entire Sandman saga. It manages to be haunting, thrilling and hysterical all at the same time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 2010
Brief Lives is my favorite of the Sandman collections mainly because I started reading individual issues of this arc as my introduction to the series back in 1993, so it holds nostalgic value for me. Perhaps this makes me biased but I think it makes a good introduction to the Sandman series even though it takes place over halfway through the original serial run. Gaiman had really hit his stride. A few points make it a good point of entry, such as its linear plot arc and because of all the storylines the Endless and their family dynamics central to the plot. While six of the seven Endless were introduced in previous issues (and Destruction's fate discussed obliquely), it is in Brief Lives that you see how they interact with each other, their prejudices and rivalries. At a dramatic point in the conclusion a long conversation contrasts several of the immortal siblings which caused me to see them in a different light.

Delirium, the youngest and most scattered Endless, conceives of a quest to find her older brother Destruction, who abandoned his realm and responsibilities sometime during the Age of Reason. He had grown rather fond of Earth, and couldn't bear to continue his duties after humans take up the scientific principles that in his words can only lead to "the age of fire and flame". Delirium conceives of this quest haphazardly as a quixotic attempt to bring the family back together. She knows that she doesn't have the coherence to put together such an attempt on her own so she turns to her older siblings for help. After being rebuffed twice, Dream agrees to travel with her if only to distract himself from sorrow of a recent romance gone sour but does not seriously expect or even desire success.

Mortality is a central theme. Even goddesses and extremely long-lived humans mysteriously meet their death in the wake of the mismatched pair. There is a lot of character development in this collection. Dream finds himself shaken and challenged at many points, at one point he even weeps when he comes to an uncomfortable realization. That is pretty stark when compared to the haughty, proud, and vainly single-minded Morpheus from earlier in the series. Delirium finally gets some serious "screen time". While first portrayed as scattered and irrecoverably insane she later shows sighs of self-knowledge and hidden wisdom. At one point she angrily defends herself, saying she knows lots of hidden truths unknown to her more stable older siblings. Flashbacks show a real tenderness between Delirium (formally Delight) and Destruction, so it is not surprising that she would want to seek him out.

And where has Destruction been all this time? He has been teaching himself to create things as a way of escaping his dharma. Unfortunately he is terrible at it, as it pointed out by his talking canine companion who kvetches over his attempts at art, sculpture, poetry, and cuisine. When there is a reunion near the conclusion of the story they talk over their differences. Destruction refuses to return to his duties and tries to explain his motives to Dream, whom finds it baffling and a bit heretical. He even tries to warn Dream about certain flaws in his personality that will soon bring about his downfall, but Dream is too stubborn avoid them.

Jill Thompson's artwork is very engaging; sometimes beautiful and other times jarring and disturbing and always somehow unexpected. I think the artwork reflects the nature of the story very well in that sense. I always kind of want it to be a bit different somehow but she lines stray in odd direction that at first irk me but then I find it engaging. Also the color palate is full of bright pastels, which you might not expect for an adult-themed graphic novel of such intellectual weight. It is a nice break from dreary gothic tones found in, say, the start off Preludes and Nocturnes.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2001
I'm a recent fan, having been introduced to the series by my younger sister. She has me reading all of the Sandman Library in consequential order, and the seventh installment, "Brief Lives," is quite possibly the best of them all. Certainly it's the only one that made me cry. Delirium, the youngest of the seven eternal siblings known as the Endless, gets an idea in her mixed-up little head to go and search for Destruction, her missing brother. Three hundred years ago, Destruction decided that his realm could function quite well without him to oversee things, so he essentially quit his job and set off in pursuit of more artistic ambitions. Delirium, to whom Destruction was always especially kind, misses her older brother and wants to find him. She approaches the twins, Desire and Despair, who refuse to accompany her; at some length Dream, the thin, serious brother who is the main character of the series, agrees to go along. He is hoping that this quest might distract him from the misery he's been in since his most recent love interest left him. The King of Dreams and the Queen of Madness then descend into the waking mortal world in search of those who have befriended Destruction through the centuries, hoping that one of them may know his present whereabouts. How they ultimately resolve this quest, and the results of the search, is achingly brilliant. Gaiman is a master storyteller, and the artistry in this book (particularly of Delirium, who never looks the same from one scene to the next) is almost too good for a comic book. This book is also of interest in that it is one of only two in the series to have all seven of the Endless appear somewhere within its pages. No true fan of the Sandman should go without reading this book!
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