Pitchgiving 2021, part 7: Justice League Dark 2: Newcastle

I’m not sure how much of Newcastle to show at the beginning. Probably best to just get the basics across, since I’m assuming we’re still shooting for a PG-13, even if a hard one. So we see flashes, enough to maybe know Constantine organized an exorcism of a small girl, that it went awry and Constantine’s friends died. We cut from the horror, and it’s a bright, normal day. Constantine relaxes back into a chair, setting his lighter on a coffee table in front of him.

We start in on the slice of life, show Tim being a normal human boy. Only the shadows are showing an interest in him again. It starts subtle, at school, all the shadows tilting towards him as if the sun’s light is coming from a dozen different directions at once.

Close in, as we watch someone open a hand-written note addressed to “Fate.” Before he can read it, his phone rings, and he sets the note down in the foreground. We watch as the text, which had read, “Panel on reversed incantations was moved on me at the last minute. Could you take my spot watching Tim tomorrow morning? Should give you plenty of time to make your panel later in the day. Let me know, Z,” change, the words “tomorrow morning” glowing, before reforming as, “3 days from now”. On the phone is Zatanna, and he tells her that he only just opened it. He picks up the message, as he explains that mail to the Tower is always spotty, especially with the state of the post office. He tells her of course he’ll cover her- he had hoped to be able to see her panel, because she always puts on such a show, but he can always astral project there and leave enough of himself behind to cover Hunter.

Now we’re back with John as he meets with some black-market magicians. They’re skeptical, because it wasn’t too long ago he was breaking up their smuggling efforts. He tells them this time he just wants to pass a message- that if they play ball he’ll even play nice next time their paths cross, let them off with a slap on the wrist. He’s trying to pass a message to the Cult of the Cold Flame. They’ve been infiltrated, and as much as they might be enemies, having a literal demon in their inner circle is bad for everyone’s business.

On the convention floor, a confused Zatanna bumps into Dr. Fate (or Occult if we’re concerned with burning through his contract appearances) at the convention.

Conspicuously, during the meeting, Constantine’s lighter, which he set on the table, opens, and lights itself with a blue flame. “Bollocks,” Constantine says, and excuses himself.

Zatanna calls John, to tell him about the potential foul-up. She doesn’t think he flaked, she thinks they’ve been had. She starts casting about for someone who can teleport- John’s got a subtler idea.

Constantine makes a phone call, to someone in a smart suit. We’re going to play coy, for a moment, lingering below his face, because who it is going to be a reveal. The Cult of the Cold Flame are making another play for Tim. The person on the other end just so happens to be in London, dealing with an issue with a subsidiary. Constantine asks him to pull Tim out, and that’s when we finally reveal who he’s talking to: Bruce Wayne.

Alfred walks up to Bruce, in full tourist mode, happy to be home, but also happy to go on holiday. He sees the steel in Bruce’s eyes, and we watch as his happiness deflates. He tells him he’ll cancel his appointments. “No need to cancel. Lucius can still take the meetings, and I can conference in. Bring the car around. I need to change.” He tugs on his tie, and we cut to the car. Alfred hits a button and the plates change. Batman tells him to get out, and go on his holiday. Because Alfred deserves nice things, once in a while.

We cut back to Tim. The shadows are getting more aggressive, but he still doesn’t seem to have noticed. We watch, as a tide of shadow is about to crash down on Tim, only for what is essentially a flash-bang to go off, burning away the shadows. Batman tells Tim they need to go, he should grab anything he needs, and they need to be gone in thirty seconds. Tim grabs his backpack, and they walk downstairs. Batman is confronted by Tim’s father, who demands to know where he’s taking his son dressed like the weird fella from Pulp Fiction. “Ving Rames?” Batman asks. Tim tells his father to sleep, then snaps his fingers, and he collapses back in his recliner. Before exiting, Tim asks if he’s going to get to ride in the Batmobile?

“Better,” Batman says, looking up at the sky as they exit his apartment. It’s empty. “Sorry, it’s hard to time an intercontinental flight in your head.” He points to the sky, where a Batplane is hovering like a Harrier jet, and grabs a grapnel from his belt. He lifts Tim up in one arm and grapnels them up with the other.

We get a flashback, this time more than just flashes, from 10 years earlier, Constantine attempting an exorcism. Half his crew die in the attempt, the rest will include the artist from last movie, as well as some fodder for this one.

Back in the present, John’s consulting with a psychic from Newcastle. The psychic knows Nergal’s around, but is terrified of getting back on the demon’s radar. John threatens to bring Nergal there, to summon him, if he won’t help. Reluctantly, the psychic agrees to try and figure out which of the council of the Cold Flame is currently being possessed.

Batman and Tim go on the run, with Tim proving he’s picked up a few tricks along the way. It’s a fun and games, relatively light B story to Constantine’s much darker A plot. The Cult prove to be much more resourceful than Batman is used to. It requires all of his wits and some of Tim’s magic to keep them on the run.

But this story is as much about counter-moves as it is about moves, and while Constantine is hunting Nergal, Nergal is hunting Constantine. He kills some of Constantine’s friends from Newcastle before arriving on the Swamp Thing’s doorstep. “You serve the green just as I serve the black. To say you’re out of your league isn’t right; we aren’t even playing the same sport. Example: you’re playing flag football, with symbolic little moral victories- while I prefer full contact.” Nergal shoves Holland’s astral form outside of his body, and leaps into the Swamp Thing. Inside, Nergal is standing in a dense, lush forest. “Well, shit,” he says, and leaps out, only to find his old host looking green-tinged. He shoves Holland out of that body, too, only to find it, too, has a forest inside it now. “You prick,” Nergal yells, trying to shove Holland out of the Swamp Thing again- only this time astral plant tendrils grab his spirit and hold it in. “Clever prick,” Nergal says, a grudging respect in his voice. “I see why Constantine chose you. A friend I can’t easily snuff out. Hmm… This is going to be a lot more fun than I thought. So enjoy your symbolic little moral victory, plant-thing.” Swamp Thing tries to get the word out, but finds that Nergal cut his phone line, so he’s going to have to grow a new body elsewhere to transfer his consciousness- costing him time.

During the interim, Nergal attacks Zatanna, getting so far as to infiltrate her mind, only to discover her father taught her well, that she’s basically built an inception honey-trap in her mind, that as the details differ, they tell her what’s going on, that it’s an attempt to influence her to soften her up for demonic possession- only she’s got some spells- old spells, cast by her father- that she calls upon to violently eject him. She’s horrified, though, because she couldn’t duplicate the spells on her own; she’s basically shot her wad, and if Nergal comes back, she won’t be able to stop him. She gets on the phone with John, demands to know what he did when he snuck off in Berlin- not what he told her, but what he did; he tells her he bought an artifact from a friend, there. She asks with what, because he was practically homeless, then; she paid for their dinner, their hotel, plane tickets, even his cigarettes. He doesn’t want to say, that given the state he left her in, it might be possible to interpret the coin he used as ‘a mite dodgy.’ She’s disgusted, and convinced that she’s back in the real world- that it isn’t another intrusion by Nergal. She tells him Nergal attacked her, exhausting her countermeasures, and she needs to run. There’s pounding at the door, before it’s smashed to splinters. Nergal, in a new host, tells her he was halfway to Charing Cross when he wondered if maybe she’d expended her defenses, and he might just be able to stroll right on into her pretty little body. Her window’s open, and she’s gone, her landline still hanging off the receiver, with John calling after her.

Nergal picks it up, and tells him, “I’m coming for you, Johnny, and I’m going through every friend you’ve got in the world to get to you. It’s your last chance to say goodbye to any who really matter to you- not that either of us are sentimental enough to believe anyone does.” Nergal hangs up.

“Bollocks,” John says. He dials up Oracle on his phone.

This is, to be clear, the post-Batgirl in a chair Oracle I have proposed. She demands to know how he got that number. He tells her the man in the pointy-eared gimp-suit gave it to him. “You must be Constantine.”

He tells her he furnished a list of contact info for every single magic user in their universe, and he needs to put out an all points, with whatever logistical assistance she can render. He says, “Bruce- I’m not calling him bloody ‘Bat’man-”

“Bruce?” Oracle asks. “He never told me his name.  

Constantine sighs, and realizes aloud, “He’s going to punch me for that. He insisted I also furnish a list of ‘vulnerabilities,’ in case I was ever compromised- the folk who are in the crosshairs. I need them moved to safety, by anyone with so much as a card up their sleeve.”

Constantine is contacted by the Cult. I’d probably have their emissary be Mr. E, who isn’t on good terms with Constantine after trying to kill Tim. He insists they exclude one member of the council, that he not even know what’s going on, or they’re all as good as dead. E knows more than he says, being in the same business as Constantine. It might be fun to draft him into the Council, that his prospects being limited, he decided on a path to try and reform the Cult from the inside, rather than bash his brains out on the outer walls, unable to effect any change whatsoever.

Meanwhile, Tim and Batman are on a globe-trotting adventure. The Cult is closing in, having learned enough about him to be watching even the clandestine resources he uses as Batman. So they’re in Vegas, literally gambling on the idea that Tim’s magic can get them some untraceable cash to buy them a little bit more time and space. I imagine part of this b plot is Constantine insisting Batman can’t call on his super friends, that the Cult might be able to hijack anyone he might go to, that were he to go to Superman, he might be handing the Cult their own Kryptonian superweapon.  

Constantine ends up meeting the Cult of the Cold Flame’s leadership to broker a deal for him to remove Nergal. They ask Constantine what’s to keep them from killing him right then and there. He tells them it’s the usual; he’ll kill at least half of them, just for making the attempt, and the other half is a coin toss- and he wouldn’t have handed them the coin if it coming up against him wouldn’t work out for the better. “I’m worth taking any one or two of you off the board. A coin that I get the lot of you and walk free seems a gamble worth considering, if you’re me. Push me, and half of you are guaranteed corpses; the rest are the ones relying on a coin. Heads I win, tails the rest of the multiverse does. But I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t like my odds.”

Nergal attacks Jason Blood at his home, only to find the corpse he possessed housed Dead Man, who slaps him around for a moment, before vacating- telling him this was a set-up. Blood proves more than capable, first sealing him, then exorcising him- but it doesn’t work. See, despite what Nergal said, he didn’t drag the Newcastle girl’s soul to hell. Instead, he’s kept her here, for years. She’s his tether, so long as he’s bound to her, he’s bound to this plane. Blood then summons Etrigan, stating he’ll shred Nergal’s soul, instead, and the bloodied tatters can remain for all he cares. Etrigan and Nergal fight for a moment within the corpse, a cool CGI feast before Nergal flees.

Blood calls John, to tell him they have a problem. John’s already aware of it- he snuck a scrying spell into Blood’s place the last time he was invited over for drinks. He already has a man on it, one of the best problem solvers in the business- “even if his fashion sense is a wee bit batty.”

So while the magic folk snatch Constantine’s friends and family and spirit them to Fate’s tower, the attack squad of Justice League Dark (including Tim) mass at Blood’s to return to the Citadel of the Cold Flame, while Batman tracks down the girl Nergal has hidden away. Batman does, tracking money Nergal’s various hosts have drawn on electronically, finding his shell holdings, finding storage locations and warehouses. Oracle still thinks it’s going to be the cold storage outside of London. Batman knows Nergal’s type- he wants it to hurt more, wants it personal- he wants her to have been under John’s nose the entire time- or rather, in the shadow of Ravenscar. When Batman finds her, he calls Fate to come and remove Nergal’s taint- freeing her from being his tether. Nergal feels it at the second attempted exorcism. Fate teleports Batman to where the others are.

Nergal pulls his trump card- Tim, who he got to through his Yo-Yo. Only this time, Nergal’s pulled more than he bargains for. Tim grabs him by the throat, and it burns him. Nergal eyes Constantine. “This boy could end everything, Constantine. You’re madder than I realized.” Nergal knows he’s in trouble, and flails. “I could drag the boy’s soul with me, straight down to Hell.”

“Now that’s against the rules, mate,” Constantine says.

“Who the Hell cares? I’m a demon.”

“Heaven cares, my son, or at least this bloke does.”

Specter is suddenly behind him. “You would threaten an innocent, a nearly pure boy, before the hand of the Presence,” Specter bellows, equally incensed that Nergal would have the gall to do it in front of him as he is that he’d do it at all. Specter basically punches into Nergal and rips out a bloodied chunk of his soul, shredding it enough with this one gesture that it kills him.

Specter and Constantine have a little staring contest; the Specter knows Constantine used him to take out Nergal, and is angry about it. “I am not your attack dog, Constantine,” Specter growls.

“If you’re trying to put the fear of God into me, you think you can succeed where a thousand nuns with a thousand rulers failed?”

“Some things about that night we spent in Berlin are falling into place,” Zatanna says.

“I won’t ask,” Batman agrees.

Constantine smooths Specter’s robe. “Not my dog, no,” he says. “But sometimes it pays to have one around, regardless of who’s on the other end of the leash.”

“There will come a day, John Constantine, where I will stand in judgement of you. And on that day, your soul will burn, for the lives you’ve taken, the friends you’ve sacrificed, the carnage left in your wake, and the spheres shall be wealthier for your loss.”

“If you persist in domming me, we’ll have to put you in his gimp suit and fetch you a whip, mate.”

“You are a creature no less vile than that,” Specter nods towards Nergal’s remains, “and when next we meet, you should expect no better treatment.” Specter disappears.

For a moment things seem okay, almost celebratory. Then Batman steps to Constantin. “I have a question, one I wasn’t about to stop to ask while the boy’s safety was in my hands. Why didn’t I remove him into the care of one of your magical friends?”

John admits that might have solved things, but that in his circles people tend to get possessed as often as people in his business change which Underoos they’re wearing outside their pants, that the other part of why Constantine had Batman and Tim on the run was to preserve his reputation. By keeping Tim out of pocket for a week while he played chess with a demon and the Cult, Constantine’s legend only grows. At first Batman bristles, until Constantine tells him, “The good a man can do with a scary reputation far outstrips the cost of building that mythology, wouldn’t you agree?”

For a moment Batman seems pacified, before he says that he heard from Oracle, and belts John in the stomach, doubling him over. “Yep, I deserved that.” Batman isn’t done. He threatens to burn Constantine’s life to the ground if he endangers his family ever again.

“Probably could. And you’re a good enough man, I’d probably let you.” That stops his wrath for a moment. “We go to war, only one man walks away. If it’s me, we lose all the good you’d do. We lose me, and the world is just down one bastard. Hardly a comparison, really. And into the bargain we’d lose that wicked fashion sense of yours.”

Batman leaves in a bit of a huff. Zatanna helps John up. “You’re not wrong about him,” she tells John. “He is the better man.”

“I know,” John says, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t hurt by it. John coughs up some blood, and makes a joke about Batman’s punches.

“I don’t think that’s from a punch, John.” Zatanna says, before he passes out.

We cut to a hospital room, with John in a gown, hearing bad news from a doctor with scans of cancerous lungs on the wall. He puts a cigarette in his mouth and takes out his lighter, and we fade the sound back up, and hear the doctor say, “You can’t smoke that in here. And in your condition, you shouldn’t smoke it anywhere.” John lights his lighter anyway, but Zatanna uses magic to crumple the pack. Constantine blows out his lighter, and we cut to black.

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