For nearly nine months, Internet-savvy movie fans have been tantalized by a Web marketing campaign to slowly unveil the new look for one of Hollywood's most popular characters: the Joker, nemesis to Batman and a central figure in the next installment of the Warner Bros. film franchise based on the Caped Crusader.
Tuesday, however, Warner Bros.' careful online campaign, which still has months left to run, took an unexpected turn when Heath Ledger, the 28-year-old actor playing the Joker in "The Dark Knight," was found dead in a New York apartment.
The tragedy will force the studio to ponder how or whether to continue the elaborate Web campaign that was already generating buzz for one of its most important movie properties. That question is made even trickier by the fact that the campaign, to date, has been largely built around Mr. Ledger's Joker, even though Christian Bale returns as Batman. The Joker character became film legend in an earlier incarnation of the Batman series, when Jack Nicholson won praise for his deranged take on the comic-book villain. Mr. Ledger's eagerly anticipated portrayal is, if anything, said to take the character to a new level of violence and intensity that is darker than Mr. Nicholson's Joker.
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