Pitchgiving 2020, Part 10: Justice League Dark

I’m just proceeding on the assumption that there likely won’t be a Swamp Thing sequel, and we’re just following it all up here- which works just fine for me, since my concept was to adapt the epic Alan Moore Swamp Thing story that draws in Zatara and a huge chunk of DC’s magical world, maybe mix in some of the Gaiman Books of Magic. Now, I’m going to acknowledge the Harry Potter elephant in the room and propose a drastic revision, namely, to make Tim Hunter a girl. I know Tim existed first, I know he’s not a knock-off, but he’s still going to feel like one if it’s a spectacled brunette boy. Even the name, Tim Hunter, seems like the slightly cooler but still everyman name you’d give to a character like that. I’d probably go a radical step further and make it a black girl; in a way, it would be kind of like finally doing Hermione justice, and at the same time, thoroughly differentiate them. But I know it’s a tough sell, so I’ll call them Tim for the duration.

We start where the post-credits scene in Swamp Thing ended. Abigail rushes Swamp Thing and kisses him. To not be too weird about it, she sees him as he ‘really’ is, Alec Holland, and sees herself kissing Alec. She runs her hand over his face, and then we cut back, and see her running her hand over Swamp Thing’s face. “Oh, Alec, what happened?”

“I died. But I came back as this, as a plant elemental.”

“Who knows Batman.” He nods.

“I’m working to save the world in a different kind of way. And as happy as I am to see you-

“We can all see the vine- we know,” Batman says. “Remind me to buy you some pants.”

“Constantine asked me to ask about your father. We might need his help.”

“Constantine?”

“A magician. A mystery.”

“A smart-ass in a trenchcoat,” Batman adds.

“He’s the one who told me what I am, and what I need to do.”

“Then, if this mission is so important, where the hell is he?” she asks.

Abby,” he takes her hand, “we’re here because I needed to see you. It was only after I said I was coming, that Constantine asked after your father.”

“You wouldn’t lie in front of Batman, would you? Also, I feel weird that we’re doing any of this in front of Batman.”

“He likes to watch.”

“Hey!” Batman protests.

“Sorry, ‘detect.’ And Constantine said he had somewhere else he had to be.”

Constantine is in London, walking the streets, on the phone with his artist hookup from the previous film. I know there’s a time difference of I think 8 hours, but it’s mid morning in London. “And you’re sure that’s where I’ll find him?” John asks into his phone. She says that’s what she painted. He calls her a life saver, and they end the call. She notices a noise, and tells John pretending to hang up then breathing heavily into the phone is juvenile, even for him. But the call did end, and she traces the sound to her closet, where the creature she painted last time (which is hanging on her wall), lays in wait. It lunges at her, and we cut back to John.

Or rather, we cut back to Tim, skateboarding through a smaller, more claustrophobic part of London.

Tim is essentially our POV character, which we’ll likely need, since things are going to get weirder before anything else, and making someone explain that will be a help. The world is on the brink of madness. The skies run red, storms and other cataclysms ravage the world. The recent rampage of the Swamp Thing through Gotham has further tilted the balance, and the events of whatever DCEU movies have further destabilized the world. You wouldn’t know it, to look at London. It looks ordinary. That’s the world where we discover Tim Hunter skateboarding. As he goes, we notice the shadows start to peel away from their positions and follow him; he’s unaware of the gathering tsunami of darknessdarkness until he all but runs into the Phantom Stranger and the rest of the Trenchcoat Brigade. Behind Tim, Constantine dispels the malevolent shadows with a flick of a match used to light a cigarette without a sound.

They discuss Tim as the most powerful magician of the age- potentially, and how they’re here to give him a choice. A nervous Tim fiddles with his yo-yo before dropping it; one of them, (probably Constantine), picks it up, and transforms it into a snowy owl, before handing it back to Tim.

Constantine says he has to go off and handle logistics, they walk Tim through some magical realms- it’s a truncated version of Books of Magic, with the three of them not splitting up. They’re pursued by more and more persistent shadows, assassins or kidnappers from the Cult of the Cold Flame. In desperation, E takes them to the future, where they bear witness to Tim potentially leading the Cult in its destruction of everything. E decides the risks are too great, and tries to kill Tim. The other two are able to handle him long enough to escape into a magical realm where time moves backwards in the form of a river- they just have to float backwards to the proper time.

Meanwhile, the rest of the conflict continues to escalate. Constantine introduces Swamp Thing to his inside man, Dead Man- who knows whatever the dead know and the Cult have been leaving behind a lot of bodies to ask questions of. Then he calls Zatanna, to see if the ‘tights set’ have responded. ‘And then some’ is her reply; not only have all of the magical heroes agreed to help, but most of the magically inclined normals, too- that everyone is meeting at Dr. Fate’s Tower. She notes she hasn’t heard from her father, though- and is angry Constantine kept his part in this from her. Constantine says it was Zatara’s plan- a race with the devil that could maybe put an end to all of this- though neither man expected it to succeed. We cut to the streets of an exotic location, at night. Zatara is running as if his life depended on it- as if all life depended on it. He spots a raven with a black pearl in its mouth, and sprints hard for it. The creature from before leaps from the shadows at him, so fast he doesn’t even get out a scream. He’s dead before his body hits the pavement.

We watch as the bird arrives at the Citadel of the Cold Flame, and deposits its pearl in a magical object, setting off a chain reaction that sees a portal open up, and something horrible start to crawl out of it.

“Damnit,” Constantine says, as he walks in the door. Others murmur words to the effect of, ‘He’s dead,’ as the psychic reverberations of the murder shudder through them. “I’m so, so sorry, Zee.” She’s angry, but at the same time, she knows the stakes are too high for her to kick the hell out of him like she wants to do- she’ll save that for later. Constantine asks after the man he wanted her to find. She still doesn’t understand.

 Constantine explains that a lot of the heaviest hitters there are a signal flare- the Cult can sense them in the heart of the sun. But he wants to take the fight to them- to infiltrate their headquarters and cripple their plans. To do that he needs the smallest, most subtle guns who can still get the job accomplished possible. Dead Man doesn’t have all that much earthly power; the Swamp Thing registers as an interesting house plant despite the deep wells of power from the green he can call upon. And Jason Blood is just a man. He’s going because he can’t ask anyone to stick their head in the lion’s mouth if he won’t- and he’s still trying to make amends for Newcastle. They should all be able to sneak right under the radar. She insists he should be back in Ravenscar if he thinks he’s leaving her behind- and he says she’s a clever combat witch, but her skills come from experience, not raw power- he expected she’d 6demand to come and the cloaking spell should be able to accommodate her. Might be cool if Batman sticks around to join the infiltration, but that may be down to contract shenanigans more than anything.

Just then Dr. Occult and the Phantom Stranger arrive with Tim, saying they ran the cult a merry chase but couldn’t keep away any longer, and mention how they lost E. John expected as much would happen- even if he hoped for more time. Tim asks why he’s there, and Constantine says he’s the whole ball game- if the Cult get their paws on him, that’s checkmate. Constantine and Zatanna arrange all of the other magic types, including Occult and the Stranger, to concentrate on a barrier keeping their location safe. At a precise moment, they’re going to open it up, and let Justice League Dark out the back door. John gives a speech about how this one is for all of sentient life, in this realm and all the others. Some of them will die, he has no doubt, but if they fail- then surely they all will. John has a word with the Spectre before leaving, and then goes. They leave Tim with Occult and the Stranger, in the center of a chanting circle- the magicians in it can’t break contact without leaving holes in the barrier. The Lovecraftian horror, now building-sized, exits from a portal and attacks the tower; it is held at bay for the moment by the barrier.

We cut to the Citadel of the Cold Flame with Justice League Dark. I’m assuming it exists kind of on the cusp of a parallel realm- so not just in Calcutta, but basically the precipice of the abyss from beyond which the creature assaulting their base came. They’re attacked by some gargoyle-like creatures, and Swamp Thing is able to use the vines growing up the Citadel to defend them long enough for everyone else to get inside. Zatanna is last, and bids them to “Nruter ot enots,” and they turn back into stone, and break after falling out of the sky.

They’re caught by a cultist with what looks like a big, scary magical weapon. He shudders, and then we hear Dead Man’s voice coming out of him. “Now I wouldn’t do this to an upstanding fella, but even on top of the evil death cult, he sucks. He beats his wife. And his neighbor’s wife.” The cultist balls his fist and punches himself across the face. “That’s gonna hurt when he wakes up.” Dead Man explains where the central chamber housing the Cult leadership is, and wears the cultist the whole way, advising them about traps and the like.

They find the central chamber, and Constantine tells them the plan was always a Hail Mary, and takes out a gold lighter. He sets it on the floor, and it grows into Tim. We cut back to the base, and the ‘Tim’ there shrinks down to Tim’s yo-yo. Constantine tells Tim he’s the only one among them capable of closing the opening through which the creature is projecting itself. Constantine tells Jason it’s time, and we get his rhyme, “Gone, gone, the form of man, Rise the demon Etrigan!” and he becomes the Demon. He and Swamp Thing launch upon the cultists that attack.

As the barrier is assaulted again and again, the strain is showing on the magic users. One bursts into flames, and another faints. As the barrier is failing, the Spectre asks them to open it, and leaves, growing in size so he can attack the monstrous creature on its level. The barrier strengthens, again.

Dead Man makes a sacrifice play to draw most of the cultists away, and buy Constantine and Zatanna more time. They fight their way to the McGuffin with Tim. We cut back to see the Spectre, defeated, tossed aside by the horror, which continues towards the Tower. The climax is Zatanna and Constantine defending Tim as they’re being closed in on by cultists, while the other members are all fighting elsewhere or neutralized. Constantine tells Tim to take the black pearl from the magical device beside them that is keeping the portal open. Zatanna asks Constantine if he’s sure- that if he’s wrong he will be catastrophically wrong. The Cult’s leader tells him he can also take its power for himself. Tim says he doesn’t want it, and manages to close the portal. The cultists continue to advance, and it’s clear that Zatanna and Constantine are about to be overwhelmed when Dr. Fate opens a portal for them, and he and the Spectre step out.

Constantine says they can stay- if the Cult demand it- and fight- or they can agree the day’s been a costly draw. They collapse on the other side of the portal, with Zatanna surprised they didn’t know he was bluffing. He’s not sure he was, in that moment. They take their wounded back to their stronghold.

Mister E arrives from the end of time. He says he’s pleased to see he was wrong about Tim, but that he should understand he never really had a choice. From the moment Constantine told him about magic- he was in. There was no going back for him. Tim, upset, turns to Constantine, who takes his time lighting a cigarette and taking a long drag before responding. He tells him he did what he had to, to protect Tim and the whole rest of the universe- there wasn’t any other way that let Tim stay above the fray. Dead Man, inhabiting whatever person is handy, tells Tim that might be the closest he’s ever heard to an apology out of Constantine- and anyone else in earshot agrees. “That doesn’t make any of it right,” Tim says.

“No. It doesn’t,” Constantine agrees; and because this is the year of Pedro Pascal playing flawed father figures, I’m going to suggest he play Constantine, because that could be fun. “The thing they don’t tell you about magic, or doing the right thing, is there’s always a cost to bear. And you bear it, because someone has to, and you hope it doesn’t break you. But sometimes, just for moments, it’s worth it.” Constantine picks up Tim’s yo-yo, and transforms it back into his bird. Tim’s delighted to see it, even if he now understand a bit about the cost Constantine’s talking about. Tim asks if he can go home- if it’s safe. Constantine promises that he’ll be under their protection, from now on. That anyone here who wants out of protecting Tim can speak now about it. No one does.

Later, in a bar, Zatanna and Constantine are drinking together. She’s still uncertain why it had to be Tim at the end, why she or he couldn’t have removed the pearl. “I’ve seen magic half as strong as that corrupt men ten times stronger than me- two times stronger than you. He could reject power like that because he’s young, and idealistic, and naïve. I don’t know if he’d do it again- I know I’m not fool enough to ask him to.”

“He would,” she says confidently. “Do you think we did the right thing?”

“Would you give up magic? For anything?”

“Save the world, maybe.”

“But only maybe, right?” he asks with a smile.

“Save my dad,” she says bitterly.

They hear the bartender, speaking with a Louisianan accent, telling someone they don’t serve his kind here, before stopping abruptly, and in Dead Man’s accent welcoming him inside. We pan over to see that Swamp Thing is entering the otherwise empty bar. As Constantine turns back to their table, he notices Jason Blood sitting in the corner.

“Jason. I didn’t see you come in.”

“You’ve been having difficulty seeing anything but Zatanna since before I came in.”

“What’s your poison?” Dead Man asks Swamp Thing.

“Water.”

I kind of hope we could have Batman along for the assault team, just because it would be great to bring him back here, haunted by the world he’s just been exposed to- but also, knowing it’s there, recognizing the need for people like them to try to get these kinds of genies back in the bottle. He offers to pay to keep them on retainer, for the things that go bump in the night.

“I thought you were one of those,” Constantine says with a smirk.

“There are worse things in the dark than me.” Constantine tells him to stop being so melodramatic, of course they’re in. Because if something sinister threatens to destroy all life, of course they’ll help stop it- everyone but Dead Man being rather attached to being alive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.