Bane is no Joker. But will that matter for The Dark Knight Rises?

Christopher Nolan's final Batman installment may well hinge on Bane, a little-known villain outside comic book circles. He will be played by Tom Hardy, star of Nolan's Inception.

And Hardy has a tough act to follow in Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning turn as the Joker.

The hulkish Bane broke Batman's back in the comic book series. Does that mean Bane will break Batman's back in The Dark Knight Rises? Warner Bros. Motion Pictures President Jeff Robinov isn't saying -- but he did say he is enthusiastic over the response to the marketing.

I think people are really responding to how cool, unique and distinct he is, Robinov said. The initial feedback on the reveal for Bane's look was really strong, he added of the character nicknamed The Man Who Broke the Bat.

Robinov expects the reaction to the character to be even stronger when the six-minute Dark Knight Rises prologue, which features footage of Bane, arrives in 32 IMAX theaters in the U.S. next week.

He wouldn't disclose much more about the studio's marketing strategy for its key tentpole franchise. But he did say that, like The Dark Knight, its successor's marketing strategy will definitely evolve, Robinov said.

Even if Bane gets significant and positive attention in the sneak peeks for The Dark Knight Rises -- which opens July 20, 2012 -- Nolan's Batman franchise faces a host of challenges in convincing prospective moviegoers -- and matching the more than $1 billion global box office of The Dark Knight.

For starters, with the Joker, Ledger had the character's 68-year history upon which to draw. The iconic Joker, the second-best-known comic book villain of all time (next to Magneto from X-Men), according to IGN, has a secure place in broader pop culture.

Hardy, on the other hand, will be introducing his character to many moviegoers, especially those unfamiliar with the comic book series' 1990s-era plotlines.

He certainly is popular with the younger fans, and he's probably the most important villain in the comics to emerge in the last 20 years, Jonathan Lampley, a Dalton State College assistant professor of English who has shown The Dark Knight in his film classes, told TheWrap.

But, he added, It's going to be difficult to make the character work. I don't think Bane is as interesting a character as the Joker or Two-Face or Catwoman.

When Bane was introduced in January 1993 (Batman: Vengeance of Bane #1), he was presented as a threat on the level of the Joker and the Penguin. Bane stands at 6'8 and weighs 380 pounds when Venom, a steroid, is pumped directly into his brain.

We are looking to give Batman a physical challenge that he hasn't had before, Nolan told Empire magazine in a recent interview. What Bane represents in the comics is the ultimate physical villain.

It's just about carnage with Bane, Hardy said in the same article. He's a smashing machine. He's a wrecking ball. ... Anything from small joint manipulation to crushing skulls, crushing rib cages, stamping on shins and knees and necks and collarbones and snapping heads off and tearing his fists through chests, ripping out spinal columns.

Bane was previously portrayed onscreen by pro wrestler Jeep Swenson in Batman & Robin. Swenson stood at 6'4 and weighed 405 pounds.

But Hardy, despite putting on 30 pounds for the role, is significantly smaller in size (5'10 and, with the weight gain, 205 pounds, according to many reports).

Lampley isn't convinced Hardy's Bane will dominate the screen the same way that Ledger's Joker did.

Sometimes it's easier for the villain to overshadow the hero, he added. I don't think that's going to happen in this one.

Anticipation for the Joker in The Dark Knight not only built because of early word about Ledger's performance. The actor's untimely death on January 22, 2008, just months before the July 18 release date of The Dark Knight, further piqued interest in the film, adding untold millions to Warners' grosses.

Lampley said that the simple fact is, so many people went to see the movie because Heath Ledger died.

They saw a very young actor give an incredibly nuanced, constructed performance and realized what a talent people had lost.

As with The Dark Knight, Warner Bros. is having to divide its marketing efforts between two villains.

Just as Ledger's Joker enjoyed a much stronger marketing presence than Aaron Eckhart's Two-Face, Hardy's Bane is getting more early attention than The Dark Knight Rises' other apparent major villain, Anne Hathaway's Catwoman.

A few images of Catwoman are floating around online. But they've drawn skepticism from some fans, particularly for the costume Hathaway dons.

I'm sure Anne is a very nice young woman but I just can't see her as Catwoman, one commenter opined on The Huffington Post.

Lampley said Warner Bros. shouldn't underestimate Catwoman, who, like the Joker, was introduced in Batman #1 and who was previously played by Michelle Pfeiffer (1992's Batman Returns) and Halle Berry (2004's Catwoman), among others.

While I think it's important that Bane get a lot of emphasis, I don't think you want to emphasize Bane over Catwoman, he said. The focus is going to be split between Bane and the Catwoman character, and I think that's going to be a problem.

Robinov wouldn't comment on the plot, nor confirm whether Catwoman would be gaining in prominence in marketing efforts.

You'll see soon enough.