Here’s a quick summary of issue #40:
The world is magik-less. Buffy is living in San Francisco with Dawn and Xander and working as a waitress. Kennedy and Willow have broken up. Most slayers dislike Buffy so much that they've stopped calling themselves slayers. And, Buffy still has nightmares of Giles dying.
Giles bequeaths his possessions and home to Faith who has allowed a catatonic Angel to take residence with her. Apparently, no one else can stand to be near him. Spike still watches over Buffy and warns her that an unknown enemy is coming for her, but, ultimately, Buffy is alone and gets back to the basics. For good or bad, she's changed the world and is prepared to deal with the consequences.
-It's a Joss Whedon written finale! I'm not sure about anyone else, but time and again I have been surprised and elated by Whedon-scribed season finales, even when my feelings of the season itself may have been shaky. I really enjoyed Season Eight, but, even for those who did not, the change in pace in this issue should go over well. Issue #40 is, in essence, an epilogue to Season Eight and a precursor to Season Nine, following Buffy interacting with various key members of the Scooby gang, which has currently, for all intents and purposes, disbanded. Whedon has crafted a final issue that is as complex and layered as the season was, and, while fans may argue that certain writers struggled to find the tone of the comic, this final issue hits the mark on the head! This is an issue where many subtleties in the writing may be easily overlooked, so it certainly deserves a second read. Little nods, like starting with the same line as Buffy #1 ("The trouble with changing the world is...") or ending with the same line the final episode of Angel ended with ("Let's got to work.") are just the icing on the cake.
Still, those looking for hints or answers as to whether Buffy did the right thing will be disappointed, as they've already missed the point. There's no solid answer, as we see from Buffy's interactions with her friends... and that's what has driven them apart. In Whedon's letter at the end of the issue, he discussed his struggle to mesh the optimistic, empowering message of the final episode of Buffy with the dystopian future of Fray. He also commented on how progress always comes with a certain amount of backlash, which can be seen in today's volatile political scene. Whedon also mentioned in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that he "wanted to play with the idea of the world dimming a little bit," because it related to the way he felt with regard to the real world and the United States in recent history. While I hesitate to say that Whedon is making any kind of political statement, I do feel that he believes that, when operating on a national or global scale, there are no safe, simple, or right decisions. Someone suffers, someone is enraged, someone disagrees with every decision the person in charge makes, and the consequences stay with the leader long after they've left the position. Did she do the right thing? Did any of them? That's a question that every reader must answer for themselves. At the end of this season, we, like the Scoobies, walk alone.
-The final issue is chock full of references! Did I mention how beautifully written this issue is? Along with a return to character interactions that many have been craving and some note-worthy line references mentioned above, this issue has multiple nods to fans that were surely intended. Keep an eye out for Buffy striking an iconic Fray pose as she jumps from roof top to roof top.
There's also a panel of the fairy from Buffy #5, "The Chain," and a so far unknown, spectacled fellow covered in blood. Could this be the prince that was spoken of earlier in the season?
-Jo Chen's cover! A real masterpiece, Chen's cover for this issue shows the confident, scythe-carrying Buffy from the cover of Issue #1 now cradling her broken instrument and wearing a look of world weariness that used to belong to Giles. Jo Chen has had a magnificent run with this series, and I can only hope that Dark Horse has the sense to lock her down for Season Nine, as well!
-Faith and Angel. These two give me real excitement for Season Nine. Both of these characters have been through so much, so it makes so much sense for them to be thrown together in this capacity.
Also, Georges Jeanty nailed his panel of Buffy's face when it's revealed that Giles left Faith his belongings. The tears are nearly dripping off the page!
-Spike and his Owlship. I hope I'm not the only one who thinks that Spike has lifted his vehicle from Dan Dreilberg. I mean, how cool is that ship? Also, it felt nice to have Spike there to cheerlead for Buffy again. She's been through a lot this season, and I have no doubt that she'll be spending a lot of time with Spike next season, given the bad vibes that the rest of the gang is sending her way.
I really struggled to find anything that I was displeased with in this issue, since it's one of the best of the season. Here are the minor gripes that I had:
-General Voll Changed Form Mid-Season. I'm not sure if I'm the only one that missed this, but Georges Jeanty revamped General Voll mid-way through the season. In early issues, Voll was a crusty, old fella. Somewhere around Jane Espenson taking over writing duties, Voll remerged as a younger, more fit general. Jeanty has taken full blame for the mistake. Apparently, the character hadn't appeared for some time, so when he showed up, Jeanty had forgotten that he had appeared before in the series. Yikes!
-The “Season Eight Doesn't Exist” Movement. I try not to let other fans get to me, but every so often something is so ridiculous that I have to comment on it. I understand that many Buffy fans were disappointed with Season Eight, but the loud voices crying out that Season Eight doesn't exist for them boggle my mind. I get that they may only wish to watch the TV series and never pick up the comic again, but, trust me, it exists. Not only that, it's canon. Given that most of this story and those that have come before it have come straight from Whedon's glorious head, I really struggle to find a reason that anyone could claim something is canon or non-canon aside from him. This isn't meant to put naysayers of Season Eight down, but rather to encourage them to reengage themselves with the comic. Instead of taking it personally that some characters (most of them, in fact!) came out tarnished on the other side, realize that this is part of the story. It's not about beating up on Angel, Giles, or Buffy. It's about Buffy not staying stagnant as a series and continuing to explore the harsh and beautiful existence that is life. Finally, some have come to the decision to ignore Season Eight due to the death of Giles. Many have stated that they can't see why Giles had to die, aside from providing shock value to the final issues. While I won't be able to take away the pain that we've all felt with this beloved character’s passing, realize that there was a point to it, thematically. If we are to continue following this story, it is necessary to see these characters deal with the loss of the their father figure as they continue to stand on their own. Sooner or later, they had to take this journey.
Fan reaction has been mostly positive for this issue, with numerous web sites giving it a positive review including IGN and CBR. While those who've been critical of the season for a while will still probably find issue with certain story elements, Whedon's letter to the fans at the end of the comic seems to have settled many worries by spelling out a more concise, focused, and familiar Buffy Season Nine.
-Scott Allie! He may not have shared writing credit for this particular issue, but, as always, Allie has been doing multiple interviews and answering lots of questions from fans. While talking to Buffyfest, he indicated with a "no comment" that the blood-soaked, spectacled fella at the end of the issue may be "the prince" that everyone has been about which everyone has been guessing. He also confirmed that there would be certain loopholes regarding the magik-less world now present in Buffy. Allie said to look at Willow's dialogue with Aluwyn in some of the recent issues for hints at what these loopholes may be. Whedon, Allie explained, would also be taking a larger role than expected in Season Nine! While doing his Q&A with SlayAlive, Allie confirmed that Willow was incorrect regarding her conclusion that Buffy got her superpowers from dead slayers. It was also revealed that Angel's decision to become Twilight would be explored and explained further in Season Nine, and that our hero was given a rosier picture about what the end result of Twilight would be. Whistler's intentions and loyalties were said to still be a mystery. Allie also commented that we may see Giles in flashbacks in the next season and posed a question about whether or not there was an apocalypse in a magik-less world. In an interesting post, Allie replied to a fan's questions about the portals which Angel and Spike entered through at points in Season Eight, by pointing them towards IDW's final Angel and Spike issues. While we knew the Brian Lynch's Spike series would explain the presence of his ship and crew of bugs, it now looks like Angel's current future-jumping story line may synch up with his conversation with the Twilight dog in Buffy Season Eight!
-Tolkien-esque Ending? More than one online commentator referred to this issue as emulating the ending of the epic quest to destroy the one ring. In Tolkien's novels, the heroes of the tale return to a devastated home that shows the effects and results of the epic war they've fought. Season Eight ended in a similar, bitter-sweet way, showing both the strength of the characters and the pain they all must endure after that final battle.
-Adam Reisinger's Review Has Some Interesting Insights! "You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain." Reisinger brought up this line from The Dark Knight in his review and discussed how it applied to the final issue and the over-arcing themes in Season Eight. It's definitely an interesting comparison! He also pointed out how uncommon it was for Xander and Buffy to not have a scene together in this issue, and how it was even stranger that there seemed to be no interaction between them whatsoever! Is there trouble in Buffy/Xander land?
Well, that wraps up Season Eight. While you're waiting for Season Nine to start in a number of months, take the time to sit down and read the entirety of Season Eight one more time. I guarantee that you'll see things that you missed, and you will have a new understanding of what the season was attempting to accomplish!