When will the next ''Batman'' hit theaters? -- We predict the release date of the much-anticipated ''Batman Begins'' sequel

Christian Bale’s back. So are his Batman Begins costar Michael Caine and director Christopher Nolan. But the trio aren’t collaborating on a sequel to their $205 million-grossing franchise reboot. They’re currently in L.A. filming The Prestige, a mystical period piece about dueling 19th-century magicians (Bale and Hugh Jackman), due out in November.

While that’s good news for fantasy geeks eager to see Christopher Priest’s award-winning novel on the big screen, Nolan’s cinematic sleight of hand isn’t ideal for the Dark Knight franchise. After all, studios have trained fans to expect a steady diet of sequels at the machine-gun pace of the Harry Potter franchise. Now, assuming the best-case scenario — Nolan and co-screenwriter David S. Goyer churn out a Batman script by the end of year and take 15 months to shoot and edit the movie (based on Batman Begins‘ timetable) — the earliest Bruce Wayne could reappear would be summer 2008. And that’s if things go well.

Although the cast remains unsure of the scheduling (”[The sequel] will be great, but I don’t know when we’re going to do it,” says Caine), no one at Warner Bros. seems overly concerned. A rep for the studio says the film is progressing, and while no new cast members have officially signed on — Bale is already on board for two more films — fansites have been speculating like mad about possible new additions. (Jake Gyllenhaal as Harvey Dent! Sean Penn as the Joker! Philip Seymour Hoffman as the Penguin!) Of course, if the Bat crew takes much longer, EW has one more casting suggestion: Katie Holmes’ soon-to-be newborn as Robin.