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How 'Joker' came to be stuff of nightmares

The transformation of the Batman story from the heroics of children's comics to the stuff of adult nightmares has been nowhere more pronounced than with the character of the Joker.

From a cartoonish baddie to the menacing embodiment of our darkest fears, the Joker's evolution seemed complete with its portrayal by Heath Ledger (left).

He played it not so much to send chills up the spine as to jam an icy spike of terror to the heart.

Veteran actor Jack Nicholson, who played the Joker in 1989, said he warned the up-and-coming Ledger about the toll such an intense role could take.

Shortly before his death, in 2008, Ledger said that he "slept an average of two hours a night" while playing "a psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy ...

"I couldn't stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going."

The myth of the Joker's curse is set to grow.