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What Could Have Been: A Look at del Toro’s ‘JUSTICE LEAGUE: DARK’ Script

Many have tried and each time the lights went out. Just like that, the Justice League went dark. Justice League Dark could quite possibly be the prime example of being trapped in development hell. Not even Constantine could fight through this hell. The earliest reports on the film began all the way back in 2012. Rumors began to swirl of Guillermo del Toro‘s possibly developing the film. It would bring together some of DC’s best and brightest supernatural characters. During an interview with Gizmodo, del Toro’s 2012 animated feature Rise of The Guardians, he confirmed the rumors that he was indeed talking to WB and DC about bringing these characters to the silver screen. As time went on, del Toro would drop updates here and there. At one point, he even confirmed his script was finished and would be turned in as soon as possible.

Concept art by comic book artist Lee Bermejo for Doug Limans “Dark Universe” featuring Etrigans painful transformation

Sadly, news broke in July of 2015 that Guillermo del Toro had departed the project but would remain as a producer. Shortly after, he commented on his departure

Warners liked the script, they were very enthusiastic and wanted to greenlight it but they wanted it to coincide with Pacific Rim 2. I was put in a very difficult place facing a difficult choice, and I chose to do Pacific Rim 2.

Concept Art by Esther Wu at Ironhead studios featuring Abby Arcane and Swamp-Thing

Joseph Kahn, a long-time music video director, was the next to revive the project. He pitched the film along with concept art for the potential adaption. It was sure to hype up long-time fans who’d been waiting patiently to see the adaptation. The concept art for the film included the film’s main roster. It offered our first look at Kahn’s vision of how he would translate characters like Swamp Thing and Deadman to the silver screen.

Suddenly in 2016, it was announced that Doug Liman would be leaving Fox’s Gambit in favor of directing DC’s Justice League Dark film. It would be written by Michael Gillio and was re-titled Dark Universe. This didn’t last long as Liman would end up departing the project in 2017 and move onto the yet-to-be-released YA novel adaption Chaos Walking. With Liman out, The search for a new director was on, with the studio eyeing Andy Muschietti, who would end up helming WB’s Flash project.

Concept art of the team featuring potential actors from Joseph Kahns pitch

Even among the many new directors, Del Toro‘s original vision remained constant. Constantine, tired of Shadowpact’s fame and flare, decided to get his own team together. His stubborn attitude certainly didn’t help in listening to orders, so he believes he would be a perfect leader. As is typical for the supernatural detective, his past comes to haunt him during his journey. So, he ends up recruiting people he has wronged in the past to make up for it. They end out seeking the book of life and death to ensure they don’t land in the wrong hands. He is forced to learn he cannot do it all alone.

They aren’t the only one though. Dr. Jason Woodrue, also known as the Floronic Man is leading a group that is also after the books. He is described as a villainous Johnny Appleseed. He is joined by Klarion, a small-blue-skinned boy, who’s followed by a cloud of flies. He also seems to have a crush on the mistress of magic. Throughout their journey, Jason is changing into a bark clad beast as a result of a regenerative serum. He leaves behind seeds that sprout massive plant tendrils that destroy everything. An encounter in the Bayou with him also ends up getting Swamp Thing to join Constantine’s cause after Woodrue abducted Abby Arcane.

 

Concept art of The Floronic Man by Ironklad Studios and Klarion by Houston Sharp

A man known as Carl Carnahan has the books and is set to sell them to a mystery buyer. The thing is, Carl is dead and the safe requires his handprint. Constantine’s only hope was to recruit Boston Brand, who is better known as Deadman. He promises to resurrect him if he helps them get their hands on the book. We even get a showcase of his possession ability in a chase sequence. This leads them to the morgue, a scene that survived almost every rewrite. There they are introduced to Carnahan’s mysterious business associate, who identifies the body.

He turns out to be Jason Blood, an expert in demonology. He and Constantine constantly fight over ownership of the books. Blood recommends they contact  Doctor Face and the Shadowpact, which naturally doesn’t sit well with Constantine. Deadman also refuses to possess the dead body of Carl, as he fears to get stuck in a rotting husk. His refusal doesn’t last long though.

Suddenly, they hear a giant fly in the room. Klarion makes his presence known and demands the key to the safe. Luckily, he has no idea that it is actually in the drawer in front of him. As he becomes impatient, he hexes the cadavers to make them his unwilling pawns. Their bodies become infused with flies as they stagger like flesh puppets that overwhelm the team. Constantine tries to transport them through his talisman but is facing some issues. Without much choice left, Blood transforms into Etrigan the demon. This transformation comes at a heavy price for the demonologist.

Concept art by Lee Bermejo and Ironklad Studios featuring the Morgue Scene

It is later revealed by Deadman that Constantine is dying of lung cancer. Naturally, their team starts questioning if they can win but he rallies them up. They end up at the Oblivion Bar, which is a watering-hole located in a pocket dimension. It is run by Edward Deacon, where we get cameos of various characters ranging from Detective Chimp, Shade, and Animal Man. There they run into Doctor Fate and the Shadowpact. Their members consist of Black Orchid, the Phantom Stranger, and Pandora. They are heralded as a supernatural Justice League.

Later on, Deadman tries to possess the Floronic Man. He fails but uncovers his true plan. He even gets rescued by the mysterious Madame Xanadu. She shows him a puppet show of the Gilgamesh legend. This introduces viewers to Inanna, who was in love with the king Gilgamesh. She was jealous of his friendship with Enkidu. They were very close fighting monsters across the world. In a jealous rage, she summoned Gugalanna, a bull from heaven. It was described as a one-man rapture that can collapse civilizations. Still, it was defeated by Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Its remains were hidden in the lost city of Eruk, which is now located in Iraq. The Floronic Man aims to sacrifice Abby Arcane to resurrect Gugalanna. The team follows him after losing one of the books in Zatanna’s bright-pink private jet. Swamp Thing refuses and simply gives them a leaf to water once they arrive.

Once they arrive, Woodrue is drawing a blood sigil into the ground. As he chants an ancient incantation, Deadman uses the chance to possess an unconscious Abby before she becomes a sacrifice. Still, Gugalanna’s revival is successful. Swamp Thing grows to colossal size to take him down while Zatanna harnesses the magic of the world. Yet, it was Constantine’s sacrifice that saves the world. He gets crushed by the Floronic Man, who he was provoking. His plants were spreading and creating flammable oxygen. So, he uses his Zippo that burns down Woodrue, Gugalanna, Klarion and even Swamp Thing is reduced to a seed.

Abby tears up after the loss of Swamp Thing. Luckily, her tears are able to resurrect him. Sadly, the same can’t be said about John Constantine. At least the team believes so. The film ends in a dark room. We can hear a raspy cough before a blue glow illuminates the inside of a bomber plane. Remember the malfunctioning orb? Well, it managed to transport him the moment he set the Floronic Man on fire.

The film ends with Deadman chasing a crook down a dark alley and questioning him about a man with a hook hand. This is a reference to the man that killed him, just known as Hook. John steps out from the shadows much to Boston’s surprise and tells him he’s thinking about getting the band back together. Sadly, we will never know what the plans were for the future of this franchise. This film adaption has since been abandoned and will likely never see the light of day. Earlier this year, it was revealed that Bad Robot would be developing projects focused on the characters that made up the team of supernatural heroes. It was announced that a Justice League Dark project currently in the works at HBO Max. So maybe there is still some light in the dark after all.

Source: Lee Bermejo, Ironklad Studios, Joseph Kahn, Houston Sharp

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