Ever since The Dark Knight and Lost, viral marketing campaigns have almost become the expectation in certain film and television genres. Christopher Nolan’s films of late lend themselves perfectly to this sort of creativity and fan involvement.

We saw it with Inception last with the use of dream research websites, not unlike the Joker “Why So Serious?” website and “I Believe in Harvey Dent” site, which both played smart parts in the comprehensive online marketing for The Dark Knight. For Nolan’s third Batman movie, we can expect the same and it looks like it may have already begun.

Wired and Empire have both posted mysterious images that resemble CIA documents. They’re not real (of course) and they can’t say which film these are for, other than describing it as a “cultural event,” but from what we gather, they appear to be for The Dark Knight Rises.

[Update: These are confirmed to be for The Dark Knight Rises. Read the following post for info on the first two clues then head here for the third document and the next stage in the viral: Operation Early Bird!]

The documents in question (shown below) both focus on a man named Dr. Leonid Pavel, a Russian nuclear physicist, and both contain text that’s been covered up as if they were taken from some special ops mission. One is a profile of the man and the other is a transcript from a conversation between the CIA and the Militia who are/were protecting him. Reading the documents, it’s hard to find connections to the story of The Dark Knight Rises and some believe it could be viral marketing for Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, but the link here is in the picture of Pavel indicates that he’s portrayed by who looks to be Israeli actor Alon Aboutboul.

Aboutboul was cast back in May into the villainous role of a “mad scientist” in The Dark Knight Rises, which led some to believe he could be playing Hugo Strange. Knowing that character description, it’s tough to believe it’s just a coincidence so now we’re very curious as to how these play into the background of the film’s story. Take a look for yourself:

We don’t quite know what this all means since Pavel is not a character from the comics, but after a little research there are a few interesting call-outs. First, notice that the profile specifically mentions that Pavel caught the eye of the CIA after his presentation at the IEEE Symposium, but everything following is blacked out. The IEEE Symposium is a real thing and it focuses on presentations for computer security, privacy and intelligence, held annually at locations around the world.

Combining that with his expertise in “nuclear fuel cycle technology and reactor designs” and we can see why there’s interest in having control of this man.

Here’s where it gets really weird: In the comments on Empire and some other forums online, some users are pointing to a mysterious script titled “Class Dismissed” which seemingly has nothing to do with Batman – You can download it yourself here (filename ClassDismissedHDrtf2.rtf). It’s rather lengthy but in its final act, a character is introduced named Dr. Leonid Pavel… a 57 year-old scientist with an accent.

Pavel, in this story, is also a tech genius who was part of a team of 8 who developed what’s called “LEOS mind,” a weaponized military network/artificial intelligence that controls spaced-based missile defense systems and learns to do more, controlling nuclear weapons, taking over planes, etc. as it attempts to basically take over the world. Again, this has nothing to do with DC Comics and sounds like something more in line with Mission: Impossible or the upcoming 24 movie but the character name and profession is an odd coincidence and an interesting find by keen readers.

If this is Batman related, it’s reasonable to assume that Pavel has something to do with the origins of Bane and the timing of this viral could be in line with The Dark Knight Rises prologue coming attached to the IMAX print of Ghost Protocol on December 16th.

Update: Check out the third CIA document and the next stage of The Dark Knight Rises viral!

What are your thoughts and theories?

The Dark Knight Rises cast sees the return of Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Nestor Carbonell and Michael Caine along with franchise newcomers Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Juno Temple, Josh Pence, Daniel Sunjata, Burn Gorman, Diego Klattenhoff and Alon Aboutboul.

The Dark Knight Rises hits theaters July 20, 2012.

Follow me on Twitter @rob_keyes.

Sources: Empire, Wired