Batman is returning, but he won't have the Joker to contend with next time.
Director Christopher Nolan says he will not bring back the Joker, the villain played so maniacally in "The Dark Knight" by the late Heath Ledger that the role earned him an Academy Award a year after his death.
Nolan would not disclose what villain or villains might take on Batman in the next film, due out July 20, 2012, the same weekend that brought the record-breaking $158.4 million debut of "The Dark Knight" in 2008.
"For me, Heath was the definitive Joker," Nolan said in an interview to promote "Inception," his sci-fi thriller opening Friday. "It wouldn't feel appropriate to readdress that character."
Ledger died of an accidental prescription drug overdose in January 2008. His death stoked fan interest in "The Dark Knight," which topped $1 billion at the box office worldwide.
With his supporting-actor win, Ledger became only the second performer ever to earn an Oscar posthumously.
The next "Batman" film will be the third in the current Warner Bros. incarnation of the franchise, which stars Christian Bale as the vigilante superhero.
© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.