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It's a late Knight for theaters

It's 10 p.m. at the Regal Hamburg Cinema, and six notices flash the words SOLD OUT. That's not a problem for Andy Noort, first in line for Batman: The Dark Knight.

He's not who you'd expect to be first in line.

Wearing cargo shorts, a black and white polo, 6-foot-9, not a comic book reader, there's nothing about him that screams fan-boy.

He bought his ticket June 29. To get ready for the opening, he watched the 1989 Batman and 2005's Batman Begins.

Behind him stand Michael Stevens and Michael Teeter, die-hard Batman fans. They didn't come in costume. They lament that, unlike Incredible Hulk, which they did dress up for, you can't just cover your body in green paint.

Behind them, the crowd seems unusually calm. Not one costume adorns the 60 or so lined up to get inside.

All of a sudden, a television photographer walks up and a large portion of the crowd screams Dark Knight in unison. It's about time to start getting excited.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Cinemark Theater at Fayette Mall had sold out seven midnight showings of The Dark Knight. After selling out on Wednesday, the Regal Cinema at Hamburg added two more midnight shows — both sold out.

The Movie Tavern, off Richmond Road, had two sold-out shows.

So what's driving the fervor to see The Dark Knight at midnight?

Harry Medved, spokesman for online ticket seller, attributes much of it to Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker.

Ledger, who died of a drug overdose earlier this year, is reputed to give the performance of his career as nemesis to Batman, played by Christian Bale.

“We haven't seen this much clamor for tickets based around one role in a long time, especially a villain. I'd say the last time anything close to this happened was with Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs,” Medved said.

“Hi!” I say. “You must be ... ”

“The Joker.” He cuts me off, followed by his best maniacal laugh.

Besides the rented maroon overcoat, Movie Tavern projectionist Patrick Camp owns the three-piece suit that went into his costume. He spent more than two hours on his garish makeup.

I asked where the bat's at, and someone taps me on the shoulder. He has been standing there for well over two minutes.

In a suit of rippling foam muscles stands Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, aka server Shawn Staton.

“You should see me under this suit. I'm in tights. I look like Tinkerbell,” said the otherwise stoic Staton.

The manager at Regal in Hamburg bustles around just past the glass doors, checking the e-ticketing machine and bracing his staff for the night of the Knight. It's 10:45 and doors are opening.

“Anybody got eight? Nine?” he asked. “We do!” shouted a group from the middle of the line. He's referring to theater numbers, the night's equivalent to Willy Wonka's Golden Tickets. Andy Noort, first in line, shakes his head in rage.

A voice close behind him screams “Not cool!” as hordes bypass those who waited longest to get inside.

People begin bartering: “You got 13? We need 13.” “I'm 16, I need nine. Anyone got nine?” “No really, I can't trade you, it's for my girlfriend.”

Negotiations break down as the lucky ones file in to the air conditioned cinema, leaving everyone else out in the night heat.