1.) The writers know what they did wrong.
Maybe not all of them and maybe not everything. But the complaints from fans and the admissions from the crew during interviews tend to match up: the pacing was chronically off, the scope was too big, there wasn't enough personal time with the characters. We have to remember that Season 8 was experimental in many ways, and that it was the first attempt to take the TV show into a new medium and expect us to view it as a canon continuation.
Everyone's aware that testing the waters is no longer an excuse, and I think it'll show. They'll keep experimenting, but these are professionals: they won't make the same mistakes twice.
On a related note, perhaps they've gotten the liberties of an unlimited budget out of their systems. Joss said he loved giant Dawn even if nobody else did. I won't lie; that kinda scared me.
2.) The universe is unified!
Great Scott, are there even words to express how exciting it is to have all the characters under one roof for the first time since before either show was cancelled? We can cross over! We can have references to things that happened in the other series! Changes to the world are going to be consistent!
Yes, IDW put out some great Angel comics (and some not-so-great ones). I have nothing against them or any of their works or their crew. But we needed to see a single publisher controlling the whole shebang before we were going to see the Buffyverse progress in ways we can believe, and given the history of both series, Dark Horse was the obvious choice. (Also, Dark Horse publishes Hellboy, while IDW publishes Transformers...just for the sake of comparison.)
Here are a few possibilities which are now actually possible:
• Buffy meets Connor
• Xander meets Gunn
• Anyone meets Lorne
• Kate shacks up with Wood (spoken like a true shipper)
• Nina takes refuge in Tibet
• Wolfram & Hart connections revealed in early BtVS villains (think "Reptile Boy" frat boys)
• Dana's whereabouts and condition assessed
• Rogue Slayers take over the Hyperion
• Frayverse revisited or mentioned from Angel's POV
• Cordelia makes contact to impart vital information about certain friends lost
• Overlapping running gags in both titles (hey, I happen to enjoy running gags)
Other series take this for granted. My favorite thing about Marvel, before it expanded beyond the point of control, was that there was always a world outside of the panel - Arcade would remark on the X-Men performing less impressively in his Murder World deathtrap than Spider-Man had, and there would be a helpful note telling the reader which Spider-Man comic to buy for the full story on that.
Yes, it was a marketing ploy, but it was the very best kind, one which ignites curiosity and lets us choose how much we want our reading experience to grow. I hope the Buffyverse makes steps to bring us there.
3.) Angel's journey has finally reached its only logical destination.
This is one of the panels that was released as a sneak peek before the final issue came out - take a good look at it. One of Jeanty's better character close-ups, but more than that, it was instantly recognizable as a catatonic response to trauma, and needed no further explanation. The blood on his face is (supposedly) artistic license, but I think it belongs there just as a reference to the violence that brought him to this state.
This is the Angel I've always wanted to see. For as long as he's been a character in his own right, he's been a victim, someone who's punished for his own countless failures along with the failures of everyone else. He keeps trying to choose the lesser evil and the consequences are devastating every time. He gave up on his own redemption but keeps fighting because he can't retire to normality and won't join the opposition. His efforts never lessen the guilt, and usually end up making it worse.
My point is, this pattern can't continue indefinitely. Sooner or later, a rational mind has to reach its breaking point. I love it that Angel can do something utterly heinous and completely against his will - say, killing his son - and then bounce back for the sake of making amends, but it's becoming the same story over and over, and more than that, it's stretching plausibility. Angel loses our sympathy if he doesn't have the potential to be crippled by his grief. He'd call it selfish to let his emotions prevent him from doing good. It is. It's also human. He needs it.
4.) Buffy and Spike's relationship will develop.
Not a trick, not a joke! I, Kairos, am looking forward to Season 9 for reasons of Buffy/Spike!
Turn in your ticket to Bizarro World; I have my own reasons for this. The interactions of the two characters in Season 8 (and, let's be honest, during the whole TV series as well) left me strongly optimistic about the writers' intentions for them. I wasn't happy about the way the love triangle was approached - I don't think anyone was - but it did offer an interesting look at the difference between the two top ships. Buffy and Angel have to be kept apart by circumstances or there won't be any conflict in their mutual story; Buffy and Spike have issues that can entertain an audience forever.
It's not the humor and bickering that interest me, though. I'd like to see the two of them considering each other as potential partners, an antidote for loneliness, a new spin on the bond they felt during Season 7. How will that play out? How long will they be able to carry on before the hard questions about their past have to be addressed? Which one will first realize that their personalities aren't compatible and they don't satisfy each other? (Sidebar: I suspect Spike has long since realized it, but if the opportunity presented itself, I doubt he'd be able to resist.) All of this has been hiding behind their romance all along, but we could be on the path to seeing it plainly on the page.
Granted, I've been wrong before. When Spike first showed up in "Last Gleaming", I was sure that he and Buffy were about to show us a platonic conclusion to their old affair, and the next thing that happened was Buffy having a crass sex fantasy about him, so, my knack for predictions remains nonexistent. Objectively, though, that scene didn't change much: Buffy's always had an appetite for her "dark place", and trust + lust ≠ love. I don't think they'll take it to the point of sex in Season 9 - if they do, I'll drop the series altogether with a letter to the editor telling him exactly why, because you gotta draw the line somewhere - but I don't think they will.
Shipping has been a major source of frustration for all of us comic readers, and I feel like doing away with the triangle would not only solve a lot of that but truly be the right thing for the story. It's apparently still too valuable for that, though, so if we're going to take the long way around, so be it. We'll see how far it stretches before everyone gets fed up.
5.) It's a world without magic, permanently.
I'm going to ask this because I seriously don't know: am I the only one who's excited about the new no-magic environment? I know some are saying that reconciling the Frayverse with "Chosen" wasn't worth the steps taken to get it there, but this goes back to what I was saying about the unified universe - Buffy fulfilling the conditions to make Fray's future canon means that the world is expanded. We've seen the real future of the Buffyverse, and everything written into it from now on has to abide by the rules it sets. This makes things far more complicated and challenging for the writers, and therefore more interesting for us (or at least, that's the theory!).
There's also a lot of implications for the current cast of characters, and the type of pickles they'll be getting into. This was shown quite definitively in the final issue of Season 8, in which we see Buffy going back to her roots and chasing down vampires in dark alleys. How much content, you may ask, can one get out of that one simple scenario? The answer, of course, is "How much content can you get out of the scenario of six twentysomethings living in New York?" (The question following that one is "Why are you comparing Buffy to Friends?", but I'll bow out of that now.)
Here's the short list of what Twilight left us: vampires, good and bad demons now stuck permanently in this dimension, disgruntled Slayers, really disgruntled ex-witches, Harmony's reality show, Amy, werewolves or ex-werewolves (either is possible and potentially interesting), the guv'mint, and quite a few much-beloved characters who now have the opportunity to just start living in a passably normal world. Stuff will happen. The fate of the universe might not hang in the balance, but how much did we ever really need that?
6.) Everyone's in a good place.
By that, I don't mean an emotionally good place, or headed toward a happy healthy life. I mean each character is positioned in a situation that (I think) is going to give us a lot of drama, fresh ideas, and the kind of personal development that I've been itching for. The entirety of Season 8 was aimed at getting some of them to where they are now, and the others have been distributed with care, leaving lots of room in front of them to progress:
• Buffy's the original Vampyr Slayer, with a job and an apartment. Whatever I said in item #5, I'm convinced that the removal of magic from the world was mostly for her sake. As Dawn says, she can no longer be the leader she was born to be, but that puts her into all kinds of excellent inner struggles. She's been at war with the world, and now she's going to regain her role in it, one staking at a time. Her sister and one best friend are at her side, and there's a vampire sidekick once again. She's golden.
• I tried not to hope too hard for Angel being human, but it's too late - I'll be mega-pouty if it doesn't happen. Gotta keep in mind that there's still good material in him as a vampire. Of more immediate value is his location, and his partnership with Faith. I'm interested in seeing his rehabilitation, but the real strength of the two of them together is going to be their awesome buddy movie dynamic and their London backdrop. (But it'll be so much better if she's the muscle and he's the powerless Watcher-type drawing on his two and half centuries of experience...see what I mean?)
Edit: One of today's links on Whedonesque has drained the A&F series of practically any possibility of Angel being human, unless for some crazed reason it happens at the end of the issue, but it takes me too long to write entries like this and I'm not going to edit these comments out.
• Willow is screwed. Screwed, screwed, screwed, screwed. She's going to be enraged and depressed and it looks like she can't do anything about it, but obviously, she'll try. We already saw her researching Aluwyn in the last issue, and we also know that she's around in the Frayverse (apparently gone dark) and dies there. I can't wait to see what she comes up with. Yes, it's a shame if such a mainstay of the series becomes a villain permanently, but we've had a lot of time to get used to it, and it would make sense with how she's developed so far.
• Giles is not only going to leave a legacy; he's going to matter. I'm not sure how, yet, but we've been told that this is how it is, and I can't wait to see how he'll show through.
There's also a great spread of relationships or potential romances going on right now:
• Xander and Dawn might just turn out to be the Buffyverse's first happy, lasting couple. Okay, I'm more enthusiastic about this than most of the fan base; I won't try to justify that to you. But this is something that the series needs: two people who love each other, are good for each other, and don't have mystical circumstances keeping them apart. Despite being Xander's girlfriend, Dawn is very unlikely to die - she and Connor are probably the safest characters in the 'verse - and with their mutual commitment to living normal lives, they could easily fall into the background as Buffy's primary source of stability. It might mean less airtime, but it would be great for everyone.
• If that fails for any reason, we also have two backup happy couples: Riley/Sam and Oz/Bay. I doubt we'll see much of either of them, but if we do, I hope they maintain their contented marriages and start or continue families. There's no good reason for them not to.
• Certain characters have the opportunity to remain single for all or most of Season 9. I'm thinking specifically of Willow here, as none of her former lovers are available and bringing in yet another new one at this point would be a big mistake. Buffy might do some dating and/or explore her feelings for Spike, but she might also decide she's happy on her own. This is another thing that the series needs: far too often, one relationship ends only for another to take its place almost immediately, especially for the women. Real life doesn't work like that, and more importantly, Buffy and Willow shouldn't work like that.
• Angel and Faith are the only ones I have doubts about in the dating area. One or both of them will probably end up getting saddled with a love interest (not each other, thankfully), and the only ones I want them with are firmly in the other title. But hope springs eternal; maybe they'll have some good times as freewheelin' singles too.
• Andrew is probably going to get a boyfriend. Good for him and let's hope that doesn't mean that we'll have to see any more of him. On a similar note, Kennedy and Satsu would make a great match, but if they catch onto that, I hope it happens off-screen so we can have a nice long break from Kennedy.
I don't know too much about where everyone else will appear or who they'll be hanging out with. It looks like Buffy's title has the majority of main characters, but there are also a few members of Angel's team I can't account for because I don't know what they've been doing on IDW. Will they gravitate toward Angel for marketing reasons, or will they each end up wherever their respective stories take them? What will they make of the new world and Buffy and Angel's part in creating it?
7.) The other half of comics is the art.
And do we ever have some excellent artists lined up. Here, have a Jo Chen cover.
You can also sink your fangs into the work of Rebekah Isaacs and remember that we don't have to say goodbye to Georges Jeanty.
I won't say any more on this, since art speaks for itself, but it might just be something that kept me coming back even if the writing lost all its appeal.
8.) There's a chance to clean up Season 8.
We all know that retcons are a Bad Thing. They take you out of the story, make you doubt the narration and whether you can trust it, and just generally annoy you. The ideal solution for any troublesome part of the continuity is always "Do it right the first time."
But thus is the way the potato mashes: they can't always do it right the first time. Sometimes we end up with bad canon, and we all have our ways of dealing with that. Some fans cut those moments out of their personal perceptions of canon, some create elaborate (and occasionally genius) explanations for why it happened despite the plot holes or characters' inconsistency. I usually take the view that whatever happens, happens, and if it contrasts our expectations, it's the expectations that need to change. I.e., I never believed Willow as a lesbian, but the story made it clear that her soulmate was a woman and so was every subsequent lover/fantasy, so, Willow's a lesbian.
Anyway, where I'm headed with this: there's another option. The writers have the power to go in and fix the details that go wrong. It doesn't have to be as overtly contradictory as some of the past recons, like the vampires' ages. A little bit of time is given to some characters to clarify, "This is what I really meant when I said XYZ", and presto, the line of dialogue that's been sticking in our throats for the past year has an explanation and we can all rest easier.
Contextually, this applies most of all to the Twilight arc. There are parts of it that resonate and are even kind of amazing, and there are parts that, to be blunt, ruined the story. I understand that the uninformed use of evolutionary theory is never going to be repaired, but we still don't have an answer for why Buffy and Angel made certain choices and statements, and this is something that could be improved vastly by revisiting it with some insight from their thoughts or dialogue. To put it another way, maybe Angel will finally tell us why he was okay with destroying the world where his son lives.
9.) I've calmed down.
This is a good thing and a bad thing, and of course it's a personal thing. Time passes, the novelty wears off, and I start to care less about the comics - a process that was likely hastened in this case due to the mishandling of the climax and the glut of commentary that I took in. I was fervently immersed in Season 8 starting at Twilightgate, and ascribed more and more importance to it until it let me down and I burned out, not necessarily in that order.
I don't get so worked up over it anymore. I thought about imposing rules on myself (don't click that link if you know you don't want to see those comments), but I probably won't need them. Even with a few wonderful fans I know dropping the series, there will be enough debate to keep me busy without checking in on the ugly side of fandom. Passion for a story can all too easily take the enjoyment out of it. It's a precarious line.
Not everyone has calmed down, of course, and the ugly side can show up without being checked on, but with Buffy and Angel safely neutralized and separated, there's also less material for raising ire. I'm the kind of person who's secretly relieved when my favored presidential candidate loses, just because I'm so tired of the smack talk.
10.) I want to see what happens next.
It's not so much a reason I'm looking forward to Season 9 as it is the reason I read these comics at all. The art, the snappy dialogue, the isolated moments of stunning brilliance, the discussion with the online community, and the first-Wednesday walk-to-the-comic-shop ritual that I like so much are all, in themselves, reason enough for me to fork over my three bucks a month (guess it'll be six now), but I came for Buffy's story, and Buffy's story isn't over.
Either that or I just don't want it to be, which honestly serves the same purpose.