Fans of actor Jay Baruchel may know him best as the star of the How to Train Your Dragon series or This is the End, but the self-professed lifelong comic book nerd is taking a leap most can only dream of. This February, Baruchel will finally be joining the DC Comics Universe -- helping to write it, starting with Batgirl and Nightwing.
For those who know Baruchel primarily for his on-screen roles, the assignment may seem a surprise. But after coming dangerously close to joining DC's movie universe as part of George Miller's Justice League Mortal (cast in the role of villain Maxwell Lord), Baruchel has put the ensuing decade to work: moving from acting to writing and directing, acting as Chief Creative Officer for Canada's Chapterhouse Comics, and writing the adventures of the company's poster boy, Captain Canuck. Next up? A story of Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon as part of DC's coming Crimes of Passion anthology, set to release ahead of Valentines Day 2020. But when Screen Rant got the chance to speak with Baruchel about the upcoming gig... he revealed DC fans may have a bit more to look forward to. The full interview can be found below.
Well, I'm so glad I get to start this question in the best possible way: "So you've now written Batgirl and Nightwing..."
No one can ever take it from me, man! [Laughs]
Can you tell me how this opportunity came up for you? I'm assuming it was related to your time with Chapterhouse Comics, at least in some tangential way -- and your incredible work on Captain Canuck: Year One.
[Laughs] Hey, thanks man. Thanks. Yeah, definitely. The short form of the story of how I got to do this was in some of the Chapterhouse work I was doing, I got to work alongside a guy called Van Jensen, who is a very talented artist in his own right and a really, really amazing writer. He and I jammed on a bunch of ideas and we did some work together, like the Captain Canuck: Invasion issue and a bunch of other stuff. He's a very, very nice man who just went ahead and spoke on my behalf to DC and said, 'If there's anything coming up, he's a lifelong nerd and his interest in comics is pure and honest and earnest.' He said some nice things on my behalf, and that kind of translated into me writing two little Flash stories... that I'm not exactly sure how much I'm allowed to talk about [laughs]. Because that hasn't been mentioned publicly or anything yet. But I've been incredibly fortunate and honored to have gotten to write some Flash issues.
I guess I didn't completely s*** the bed and they dug what I was sending them enough, because they said, 'Do you think you could think of something for Nightwing and Batgirl to do in this anthology we've got coming up?' I think I replied inside of four minutes of them asking me [laughs]. It's the coolest, man. All of my life has been preamble to get to be on Final Draft and get to write stage directions, panel descriptions, and dialogue for characters I grew up loving. So it's been pretty cool, to say the least.
So you get this perfect opportunity with Crimes of Passion to write two beloved Bat-Family characters. I know for any fan there would be pressure involved, but it's some truly hallowed ground you're dealing with when it comes to Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon. What kind of story did you want to tell?
Yes, well aware, well aware. It is with a great deal of reverence that I approached this. I went back and re-read a lot of stuff, and read stuff that I had missed the first time around for whatever combination of reasons. I wanted, as best I could, to distill their interactions and their arcs into vibes. I wanted to get down into the ingredients of what makes for a satisfying and proper reading of them. Because I didn't want to just come up with an adventure that I found interesting and then just plug them into it, you know? I wanted it to be thematically correct.
So for me, the key elements are: it's got to be a pretty decent detective story, number one. Then it's got to take the hand-to-hand combat pretty seriously, which might seem superficial but I think martial arts is a key part of their DNA to me. But the big one, obviously, is their kind of relationship 'grey area' that sometimes spasms to fruition but is usually... there isn't necessarily a term. I really don't want to use the Facebook 'it's complicated' thing, but that might be the most accurate. By the way, I think that's an incredibly truthful and very, very real phenomenon that I think more people experience than don't. So it had to have all three of these ingredients in a big way.
I chose Dick as my way in. He's got issues to spare, so there is a great deal of angst and chip-on-his-shoulder stuff, there is a great deal of assuming responsibility and assuming guilt for things that he doesn't necessarily have to, or need to. There's also... the guy's got parent issues like you've never seen [laughs]. You know? Considering where he comes from and then how he was raised. I'm not saying anything that's revolutionary, but to me it wouldn't be a Dick story worth reading if it didn't traffic in that stuff. So this is all to say that, without spoiling the bloody thing, especially because I'm going to have a notes call with my bosses in about forty-five minutes, I wanted to create something that was vigilante fiction, with a big bleeding heart on its sleeve. And all I'll say is--I don't know if I'm even allowed to say this, but in terms of locale, I had to pick a spot that was loaded with meaning and history and experience. So obviously it's in Blüdhaven. But that's about all I feel comfortable mentioning.
You've never come off as a writer or filmmaker with an ego, but I'm curious what it's like diving into the process of getting better at writing comics with these established characters. I assume writing is writing, and writing characters is the same regardless of the medium, but what has this process been like for you, in terms of honing those skills?
Yeah, it's been spectacular, man. It's been the most pleasant process. But you're right, like anything, the experience and practice just comes from doing it. I am very well aware that I am still green as hell in this world, even if I wrote a whole bunch of s*** for Canuck, and I'm allowed to say now in hindsight, a little ghostwriting on some other Chapterhouse titles as well. But I try to learn from my mistakes every single time, or if not mistakes, just try to improve. Ideally every script I write is better than the last one I wrote, that's always the goal. But here's the thing: having been behind the scenes of a comic book company when I was part owner of Chapterhouse, that's the best way to see the guts of it. I could see a project from A to Z, I could see what works and what doesn't, and what gets lost in translation from script to drawing.
But the process with these guys has been really, really fantastic. On The Flash gig I've been working for Andrew Marino, who has been the absolute chillest. Also it's been super cool because, obviously again I'm not going to say anything revolutionary here, it's a medium where one doesn't have to censor oneself preemptively in terms of creative censorship. I have been encouraged to paint on as big a canvas as I can conceive of. That has been the absolute coolest. And it's really, really neat to get notes on superhero stuff! Because it just reminds me of when I was a kid and we'd all sit around sketching or coming up with ideas. We all were avid comic readers, and the sort of natural progression of that was wanting to create our own superheroes. I get to tap into a pure bit of my imagination, and to get notes on whether or not this is a cool enough vehicle, and can this superpower be even neater [laughs]. It's the best! I could talk about this s*** all day every day for the rest of my life!
That does seem like the cool thing with these holiday issues, or short story anthologies, too. The writers coming in from outside of comics (or people who do most of their writing or creative work outside of comics) speak about getting an invitation to take these characters maybe less seriously than some might assume. It's the opposite of gatekeeping.
Oh absolutely. It's devoid of preciousness. And it comes from a place of love and wanting to share it with as wide an audience as you can find.
So now that you've gotten this chance, and readers will first be seeing your work in Crimes of Passion, what is it you hope they'll take away from your Nightwing and Batgirl story?
Yeah, it's going to sound real hokey but honestly I just hope that I entertain some folks. The sort of secondary goal for me, what would be gravy, is if people felt that I honored these characters. If the people who are real protective, if the gatekeepers think that I wrote Dick and Barbara the way they're supposed to be written, that'll be special. Because that's an incredibly important thing for me. I don't want to just write a generic version of the voice in my head, I'm trying my best. Everything I do stands on the shoulders of everyone who's ever written either of those characters before me. So hopefully I entertain some folks with the story, and pay homage to the characters as well.
DC's Crimes of Passion will arrive at your local comic book shop on February 5th, 2020. The 80-page prestige one-shot will retail for $9.99 USD.