With 1,200 people packed into the Dave Cockrum room at Wizard World Chicago, most wearing matching "The Dark Knight" T-shirts handed out earlier that day, Paul Levitz introduced the star-studded "The Dark Knight" panel: actors Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Director Christopher Nolan, Writer David Goyer and Writer Jonathan Nolan were all in attendance to answer questions, talk about the movie and watch along with the crowd the first publicly shown footage from the film.
"We are very lucky that 'The Dark Knight' is filming here in Chicago," Levitz, the president and publisher of DC Comics, told the audience. "The team from 'The Dark Knight' remembers very fondly the warm welcome you gave them a few years ago."
After bringing out both Nolans and Goyer, Levitz introduced the first movie star: Gary Oldman. That's a pretty big name brought out with two empty seats still left on the dais.
When Bale entered the room, it was absolute pandemonium.
"It would be really wrong of us to give an hour to Batman without asking Batman to be here," Levitz said when introducing Bale.
"Thank you for the insane welcome and for embracing the first Batman, it gives me a great deal of confidence" Bale said. "As you can see, we've got one hell of a crew and cast. It's a real high to get this kind of response, and it's a real honor to reprise this bad-ass."
"Something like this is why you do it," Goyer told the audience. "I went to comic conventions as a kid. It's an honor to be brought in here by Chris, it's full-circle."
Immediately, a long line formed down the middle of the room, fans waiting patiently to ask questions of the talent behind "The Dark Knight."
The first question was directed to Christopher Nolan and Bale. What was the best thing about working with each other, the fan wanted to know.
"Christian should go first," Nolan laughed.
"Christian? You've been directed," Levitz said.
"Yeah, but usually he gives me the words to say!" Bale responded.
Bale told the crowd that the two trust each other, and that he very much enjoys what Nolan does. "[It's] an added bonus that Chris' movies are great at the end of the day."
Nolan said that everyone knows that Bale is an extraordinary talent.
"But what you may not know is his extraordinary precision," Nolan said. "He can hit his marks in an extraordinary way, which blows away stunt guys. I'm able to use him for stunts and not swapping him out."
The next fan wanted to know if there was a difference in preparing for a superhero movie from a more traditional movie.
Oldman responded by telling the crowd that he doesn't typically act much outside the script.
"That's your map," he said. "We're blessed with a great script, a great cast and a great director."
They turned the question to Eckhart, who will be playing the role of Harvey Dent/Two-Face.
"I cannot add to what Gary Oldman just said," he laughed. "That would be blasphemy, and I'd be kicked out of the union."
"With Burton, I never was a huge fan of Batman… he never created interest in my mind," Bale said. "But then I read Frank Miller's 'Batman: Year One,' [that] made me say what you all say: Why the hell hasn't someone made this movie yet? I love playing him. For the second [film], it was like riding a bike. You stick on that suit… for me, there's only one way you can play it."
The next fan asked about the unique marketing of the Batman franchise, which the panel quickly side-stepped with no comment. An example of that unique marketing experience was seen last month during Comic-Con International in San Diego, in which a Joker's army was assembled using fans of the franchise (full report on that event here.)
A fan asked about an article in "Entertainment Weekly" which said Oldman was contemplating retirement. He asked if Oldman could be talked out of it.
"You can't believe what you read in those rags," Oldman said, to the delight of the crowd.
The portrayal of the Joker was a hot topic. Goyer told a fan that they took a lot of time considering how to write the character. Goyer went back and re-read the first appearances of the Joker, and he said they came "eerily close" to that character.
"The Nicholson character portrayal doesn't work [in this franchise]," Goyer said. "We asked, how would the Joker fit into the 'Batman Begins' universe?"
Another fan asked the actors - Bale, Eckhart and Oldman - if they have fun when the cameras are rolling, or if they "get tense." He stressed the "get tense," which Bale mimed back to the fan, "We get tense."
A fan asked if Batman would be more of a detective in this movie, a question which evoked applause from the crowd.
"The short answer is 'yes,'" Nolan said. "'Batman Begins' was an origin movie. We're trying to move the story forward."
Goyer told the crowd that topping the origin story has been a big challenge. "Based on everything these guys are doing… I think they've topped it."
The last question went to a fan who said she thought Mark Hamill's Joker from "Batman: The Animated Series" was the best, and wanted to know the difference between the animated Joker and the movie Joker.
"To be perfectly honest, what Heath is doing with the Joker… what he's doing is completely indescribable," Nolan said. "It's literally impossible to describe. It's very personal to him."
Oldman then piped up to speak about Ledger's work.
"May I say something? I've done some scenes with him… he's going to knock everyone out of the ballpark."
The questions were then shut down, the lights were cut, and the short preview - being seen for the first time by the actors as well as the audience - was shown. A little more than a minute was shown. Scenes included Batman on a motorcycle, Batman looking out at Gotham from the top of a building, a short, choppy scene which was a fight scene between Batman and the Joker - or someone who was dressed as the Joker - the Bat-Signal getting an axe thrown through it, Joker marching down the street while firing a machine gun and Harvey Dent meeting Bruce Wayne out for dinner.
The crowd begged for it to be shown again, but Levitz was not allowed to capitulate.
As the crowd filed out, there was one last surprise. All of the free T-shirts have, in neon writing only visible by blacklight, "Ha ha" written on them.