I am blogging my reread of Neil Gaiman's Sandman. Here's the first post, which explains some things.
Dream has collected all of his things, and is celebrating by engaging in a world-class brood. And feeding the pigeons. He is interrupted by a cry of "Hey! Mister!" and a soccer ball which nearly brains him. It's an excellent visual metaphor for Dream's situation: something is coming right at him, and he's not paying attention. This time, he puts up a hand, catches the ball, averts the injury. He won't always be able to.
He is joined by his older sister, Death, who explains the film Mary Poppins, and the meaning of "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" to him. The brightness of Death's personality, the ease of her speech is in direct contrast to the black hole of Dream's mood. She tells him moping isn't like him, and he almost agrees that "perhaps" it isn't. It's a hint that Dream has changed. How much is a question that will be answered over the course of the run.
Death asks him what is wrong, and Dream tells her, relating the events of the previous issues in a manner as empty as he currently feels. The moment when he finishes is the moment I fell in love with this comic. Death, who loves her little brother very much, tells him he is "utterly the stupidest, most self-centered, appallingest excuse for an anthropomorphic personification on this or any other plane!" and bounces half a baguette off his head. It is the concerned, big-sisterly equivalent of "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and the moment the comic found its heart.
It's also the moment it found one of its main themes, and sources of conflict: family.
Dream spends the day going on rounds with Death. As she fills the role of her office, he hears the sound of wings, and the sound recalls him to himself. He remembers his responsibilities (and that he must be reminded shows us how much Dream has changed over the course of his imprisonment), and as he as, she has given him much to think about. That is what family does, she tells him. But not everyone in Dream's family would agree.
On the last page, Dream conjures a handful of sand, and throws it, saturating the page with yellow and gold, and hears the sound of wings. It's a scnen that has, every time I've read this, conjured the last line of "God's Grandeur," by Gerard Manley Hopkins, in my head. A beautiful image, and one that, on its surface, seems joyful.
But every other instance of the sound of wings has been a harbinger of death.
(There are a couple of great visual moments: a panel where Dream and Death stand in front of a graffitied wall that reads "No one here gets out alive!" which no one does, and another scrawl that tells us "Dreams make no promises" but he does, and that becomes his undoing.)