It’s been a big month for Marvel Studios news and if the earlier report about their plans for San Diego Comic-Con has any truth to it, it got a lot bigger.

A few weeks ago we wrote about the rumor that the folks at Marvel were looking into the strategy of introducing members of their vast line-up of lesser known characters through short films attached to the theatrical releases of their tentpole big budget superhero epics. What that means for us moviegoers is that, like Disney does with Pixar films (remember, Disney owns Marvel now), we could start seeing The Avengers among other upcoming flicks showcasing 10-minute shorts for the likes of Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Dr. Strange and other characters the studio is interested in adding to their growing franchise.

It made total sense and while unconfirmed, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if Marvel goes down that path.

Later that day, news broke that Marvel Studios had signed a deal with the writing pair Thomas Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer (Conan, Cowboys and Aliens) to pen the screenplay for a Dr. Strange movie. That, combined with the recent news about the Runaways movie, a S.H.I.E.L.D. film after The Avengers and reports that the studio is in talks with a notable actor about Luke Cage, really emphasized the idea that Marvel wants to grow their franchise and give many of their other properties a chance in the spotlight.

And yes, there’s still Ant-Man

All of this represents only what has happened over the last few months, with much of it occurring just in the last few weeks no less. What happens next week at San Diego Comic-Con when director Kenneth Branagh shows up to debut the first ever Thor trailer for Marvel Studios? What else will they show? What other movies will they tease or announce? What surprises will keep fans talking for months and months after the event closes?

Comic-Con is the most exciting time of the year for comic book fans and most especially, comic book movie fans. Last year we were treated to the wildly entertaining Iron Man 2 panel, but this year we’re likely getting so much more. After all, Marvel has two feature films debuting next year in Thor and The First Avenger: Captain America. On top of that, they have started preliminary work on The Avengers among other properties mentioned above and, unlike last year, we can expect competition from Warner Bros. who will start the ball rolling with Green Lantern and their upcoming slate of movies.

Suffice to say, we expect big things from this year and according to [an anonymous source] we’ll be getting just that. The [source] has revealed plans for Marvel Studios’ panel at Comic Con from one of those infamous “well-connected” people. Let’s go through the four points one at a time:

Continue to see Marvel’s rumored comic-con plans, the new Bruce Banner, Joss Whedon and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye!

1. “I have it on good authority that Ed Norton is returning and, depending on scheduling, he’ll be appearing alongside Renner et al for the official announcements at SDCC.”

Possibly the largest enigma about Marvel Studios casting is that of Edward Norton and the character he played so well, Bruce Banner (aka The Hulk). Since The Incredible Hulk, it’s been nothing but a battle of words and confusion between Norton, Marvel Studios and us, the fans. While we knew it was unlikely that we would get to see The Incredible Hulk 2 anytime soon, it was almost law that he would have to be back to play the role in The Avengers. We were wrong.

After Robert Downey Jr. made the cameo appearance in the Hulk film to help market it, it was long-rumored that we’d see Norton repay the favor with a Hulk cameo in Iron Man 2. That didn’t pan out, and even though Hulk’s been repeatedly mentioned and “confirmed” as a character in The Avengers, it’s remained vague as to what extent.

Would we only see Banner in a small role? Could he be a partly-antagonistic character (Norton thought the idea of a villainous Hulk was “fun”)? From mentioning his agents were in talks with Marvel, denying he knows much about it and saying the Hulk’s return is “only a matter of time” and of course, the initial controversy about which cut of The Incredible Hulk hit theaters, there’s always been a cloud of mystery surrounding Norton’s future with the franchise.

My thoughts: This had been part of the plan all along. Norton’s a fan and he continued to say it’s up to the fans (i.e. us). Of the dozen posts I’ve written about Ed Norton as Bruce Banner and my desire to see him back, there’s been overwhelming positive response and agreement to this idea.

As we know now, this is sadly no longer the case but it was definitely their plan. As of a few days ago, Norton and Marvel have parted ways and he will not appear as Bruce Banner in The Avengers. A rumored replacement was found in wannabe rap star Joaquin Phoenix, but those rumors were quickly replaced with news that Mark Ruffalo is in talks with Marvel for the part.

What an elaborate scheme this would be if it were all a ruse and he did show up on stage?

What about the Renner part of that statement? Towards the end of May, we heard the rumor that Oscar-nominated bad-ass actor Jeremy Renner was about to sign on with Marvel Studios to play Hawkeye in The Avengers, confirming age-old rumors that he could play the character after meeting with Marvel long ago to discuss it. Just three weeks ago, it was confirmed that he was in fact in final negotiations to play Hawkeye but we’ve yet to hear the big confirmation that he’s officially signed. Do not be surprised if this happens at the panel at Comic-Con. Be even less surprised if the 6000 attendees packed into the room go absolutely insane at this announcement.

2. “There will be an Avengers thingamajig with Whedon (who may or may not be there via telecast, he’s currently in London with the Cap crew and he may or may not be too busy to fly out), Renner and others depending on their schedules (notably Norton).”

Yeap, of course there will be. The Avengers begins production early next year for its 2012 summer release and we just know they’ve been saving some big announcements for this for Comic-Con.

Even though there’s been a lack of official word on it, we know Joss Whedon is directing and helping re-write the script for The Avengers. A geek icon taking the reins of the most ambitious geek movie ever sounds promising, but we’ve yet to see Whedon ride success at the box office. That will no doubt change two years from now and we can most certainly expect him to make an appearance one way or another.

He’s at home on the convention circuit and we know now that he’ll be there in person, possibly to unleash some big surprises of his own on the crowd. Since joining the fray, Whedon’s been involved with Captain America along with his own Avengers movie and we also know he’s met with Edgar Wright, likely to discuss Ant-Man and his introduction in The Avengers (insert Nathan Fillion rumor).

I should also note that Edgar Wright will be at Comic-Con as well with Michael Cera to promote Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Continue to see Marvel’s rumored comic-con plans, including the Thor trailer and the Dr. Strange movie director!

3. “We’re getting the expected massive Thor panel complete with footage/trailer, poster and images. There will be a Cap panel and the plan is currently to have Johnston, Evans, and Weaving there via telecast as they will still be hard at work in London. We should see a poster and pics.”

We know the first part already in that the Thor teaser trailer would premiere at Comic-Con, but how much we’ll get to see from The First Avenger: Captain America and its cast remains a question. Since it hits theaters during San Diego Comic-Con next year, it needs to leave some sort of mark this summer even though it’s just beginning production in the next few weeks.

As far as we know, there’s no press for the Captain America cast – it’s all aimed at Kenneth Branagh and his cast for Thor.

4. “Feige also hopes to announce the Dr. Strange director at some point during SDCC.”

We just found out about the writers for Dr. Strange so it wouldn’t be off the mark for a director selection in the coming month. The question remains as to what movie(s) will accompany The Avengers in the summer of 2012. Marvel wants two full-length features a year with the goal of bumping it up to four. If they get more backing from Disney to do more, if they go about micro-budget films for their secondary characters or even short films for them, we could see quite a few Marvel movies between 2012-2013.

One of those 2012 films could very well be the Peter Sollett-directed Runaways, which was just reported to enter production in the first half of 2011.

Two announcements I would like to see from Marvel is an idea of the full roster for The Avengers and a confirmation on their upcoming line-up and schedule of films: Ant-Man? Runaways? Luke Cage? Heroes for Hire? S.H.I.E.L.D.? The Avengers 2? The Incredible Hulk 2? Dr. Strange?

As cool and awesome (and on my part, expected) as this could all be, what a let down if this is but another completely made-up-for-attention rumor. All of it is based on recent news items and rumors so it could just be someone saying the obvious or playing the guessing game. Think of it as a discussion and opportunity for you to voice your predictions.

The official lowdown on Marvel Studio’s panel is very vague so let your imagination fill in the full description:

Marvel Studios: Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger

6:00pm-7:00pm – Hall H

Producer Kevin Feige and special guests give you an inside look at the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Time will tell and that time comes soon. I’ll be their reporting live as it happens from SDCC so follow me on Twitter @rob_keyes and our main feed @screenrant and let us know your thoughts.

Thor opens May 5, 2011; The First Avenger: Captain America hits July 22, 2011 and The Avengers is scheduled to debut May 4, 2012. We’ll find out what comes next at San Diego Comic-Con this week!