How Jay Baruchel Came to Write Nightwing and Batgirl's 'Crimes of Passion'

DC Crimes of Passion - Publicity - H 2020
Andie Tong/DC
The actor and artist Andie Tong weigh in on DC's new crime romance anthology.

As the song goes, love is strange — and stranger than usual in DC’s Crimes of Passion, a new twisted romance comic book anthology released this week. Featuring all kinds of characters from Gotham City and its noirish surroundings (including Batman, Catwoman and even old-school detective Slam Bradley), it’s a mix of love stories and crime fiction that has to be read to be believed.

One of the pairings in the extra-length issue is sure to thrill fans, with creators Jay Baruchel and Andie Tong taking on Nightwing and Batgirl for an eight-page story titled “(K)night Falls in Blüdhaven.” If the name has you wondering, yes, that's the same Jay Baruchel who appeared in Knocked Up, Goon (which he also wrote and produced) and The Kindness of Strangers; he's been writing comics since 2018, and is actually a partner in Chapterhouse Comics, a Canadian publisher. Andie Tong, meanwhile, has been working in comics for a number of years, most recently on DC's Green Lantern: Legacy.

The Hollywood Reporter talked to both creators about working on the story, with a sneak peek into the finished product as a chaser.

This is a fun story, but it's also a packed story. You get a lot in this eight-page slot.

Jay Baruchel: Thank you so much! (Laughs.) We tried out best, what can I say? We definitely tried out best.

Andie Tong: I was a bit worried at first because usually six panels is normal on a page, but yeah, I managed to fit it all in.

How did you both get involved in this? Is this something where you both have a longstanding fandom of Nightwing and Batgirl, or were you both just looking to do something at DC and this came up as a possibility?

Baruchel: I had already been writing for DC for the past year or so; I've been writing some stuff that will be coming out this year, and I was just lucky enough to have a really kind, good editor named Andrew Moreno who passed my name along to Alex Antone and Dave Wielgosz [editors of the Crimes of Passion anthology], saying that perhaps I might have a good take.

They basically said, "We're looking for something with Batgirl and Nightwing, give us some ideas," so I came up with a few things, and this was the story they responded to and thought that we could have the most fun with. Then I gave them the unenviable task of having to edit me. (Laughs.)

I just wrote it, basically, without thinking about the page count. I knew I had to get it down to eight pages at some point, but I thought, I'll write the story that I see and pass it over to them and they'll tell me how to cut. So they're the real heroes of this story. (Laughs.)

Tong: For me, basically, I've been working with DC on and off for a while, starting way, way, way back, and just recently, they commissioned me to do Green Lantern: Legacy, one of DC's books for kids. After that, they saw my work, and Andrew Moreno, again, offered me a few shots and then recommended me to David to do this. It's a great story because it reminds me of Dark Knight Returns or something. It reminds me very much of the mutants in that book.

Baruchel: Yeah! "Slice and dice! Slice and dice!"

Jay, you said that you wrote this story and then thought about page count after the fact, but you're dealing with a lot here. You're dealing with Nightwing, with Batgirl and Jim Gordon and the gang. What was the origin of this story? The idea of this being your idea on what appears in a Valentine's Day romance anthology is wonderfully out there. How did this story come about?

Baruchel: What this ended up being started as my vain attempt to write something in the late '30s, early '40s, somewhere between hard-boiled detective drama and pulp fiction and noir cinema with a lot of slick city streets and antiheroes pacing at night with an inner monologue kind of vibe to it. That was my jumping-off point, and it seemed to match pretty well with Nightwing, who, if nothing else, has a big chip on his shoulder. I just kept thinking about how to write detective fiction that was also a love story.

And also, I kept thinking that there are a lot of adjectives in common between, like, emo punk music and film noir. There's a whole lot of pathos, I think it's a lot of angst, I think it's a lot of charisma, I think it's sort of big, writ-large emotions, as opposed to my minutiae and nuance. The relationship between Barbara [Gordon] and Dick [Grayson] is, as everyone knows, nothing if not loaded. 

Andie, how did you approach the script? You really do make the most of what's in there, and there are some beautiful pages.

Tong: I was a bit worried because there was a lot of plot, but it was great. A lot of hero shots. I could have gone the other way  — like, for example, page two with Nightwing looking down at Gotham City, with the background and all that, it could have gone the other way where I could have had a long shot of him, but just, I wanted to get one hero shot up of Nightwing and then the story just flows from there. It's good.

Jay had given enough space for me to work everything out, so even though it feels like a lot, just to have one panel of it that's quite heroic, and then everything else is just sequential storytelling — it just flowed from that.

Did you two get a chance to talk before the collaboration? Because one of the things I like is it really feels like you're both on the same page in terms of balancing action and characterization —

Baruchel: We just met now! (Laughs.)

Tong: Yeah, we've been talking slightly just before we got on to talk to you!

Baruchel: I was all, "Nice to meet you, I've really been enjoying your work!" I mean, actually, no, technically, I think we emailed once.

Tong: Yeah, just a quick introduction. But everything was in the script for me to work from; I think if I had any problem, I could have emailed Jay and Jay would have been pretty easy about how everything flowed, and how I drew things. Once I did the thumbnails and sketches, though, everything flowed pretty easily. There weren't too many changes.

Baruchel: What I had written stood a pretty good chance of ending up as a bunch of garish insanity, and it wasn't that at all. It's like, when you write it, you're worried about the worst bit of it, but you imagine the best version of the story. When I read what came out, it was so much better than the best ones I could imagine.

Tong: It's just really good storytelling, actually. As the narration of Nightwing was being displayed, it really reminded me of Blade Runner, the way they did the talking and how it carried the story. It was really nice, as I was reading the script, everything just fell in place.

As I look back over by the pages now, I was — not amazed, but just pretty happy the way it turned out. I was bit worried about the setting of the bad guys; when I did the first establishing shot on, I think, page six —

Baruchel: Man, that's what I mean! I wrote something that could potentially have been god awful, and I was just like, "How is this gonna look?"

Tong: That was the last panel I drew, by the way — I did everything else, and left the big establishing shot of the underground, headquarters of the bad guys for last. I'm so glad it turned out all right! I made sure to cover a lot up in shadow in case it didn't work, though. Just in case. (Laughs.)

DC’s Crimes of Passion is available digitally and in comic book stores now.