"I still do not see what purpose this will serve...[but] It might be interesting." Morpheus is obsessed with purposes and reasons and rules and regulations and power and all sorts of Type A obsessions, at least as presented so far, so this bit of dialogue lets us know that the story will be a wee bit different. I myself don't understand the point of Death's exercise, except to get Dream to go out and meet his minions.
And as for Death, what do we learn of her? When Hob basically insults her very being, her very reason, and her occupation, her reaction is not anger or vengefulness. She is amused! And as a result of her amusement, she chooses to make his belief come true; he will live on.
I am pettily amused by the first panel, and how pub grumblings back then are basically on the same lines as pub grumblings today. Things do not change with time; how well this sets up the story of the man who will not change with time (not physically at any rate!).
And so we ride through time in this oddly standalone interlude in the book (though pieces are placed for future stories, i.e. Dream's deal with Shakespeare), where Dream meets with Hob once every 100 years.
I could never put my finger on exactly why I liked this story so much the first time, and still do now: it reminds me of the original Time Machine movie, with Rod Taylor (the hotness!). To me, it's an extended version of one of my favorite movie scenes of all time, where George sits in his time machine, absolutely still, watching the shop window dressings change as time goes by, variously amusing George, titillating him, exciting him. The mannequin sequence leads into a longer, more disturbing sequence, where his home is transformed, the city is transformed, and even nature herself is transformed.
But still, "The years roll by, everything unfamiliar. Except the smile of my never-aging friend." So is Dream Hob's mannequin? Or is Hob Dream's constant? As they both barrel through their respective immortalities, who is more in need of a reminder that la plus ca change, la plus le meme chose?
-Fun Chaucer cameo!