[Update: Marvel releases an exclusive statement to HitFix confirming Edward Norton will not star as Bruce Banner in "The Avengers."  Full details here.]

In two weeks, the San Diego Comic-Con gets underway, a mecca for fans of pop culture of all types, and the ultimate sweet spot for any company will be showing up with a comic-book movie and giant movie stars.  There will be a parade of talent heading across that stage at Hall H, announcing projects, showing clips, and promoting movies.  How much of a reaction do you think there would be if Marvel introduced Joss Whedon as the official director of "The Avengers," something that they've been refusing to confirm ever since the rumors first broke?  And how much of a reaction would there be if he walked out onstage to personally introduce The Avengers?

Imagine that.  "Ladies and gentlemen, you all know Tony Stark..." and there's Robert Downey Jr.  "Of course, you know Nick Fury..." and there's Samuel L. Jackson.  "I'd like to introduce you to two more of our team members, Thor..." and out walks Chris Hemsworth.  "... and Captain America..." and then Chris Evans joins everyone else onstage.  "... and, of course, the jolly green giant himself, The Hulk!"

And then some guy no one's ever seen walks out.  And he is decidedly not Edward Norton.

Does that make sense to anyone else?

Because right now... that's the plan.  After all the careful groundwork that Marvel Studios has laid the last few years, and after the way they've built this great cast film after film, they're going to make a colossal misstep at the finish line.  According to Marvel sources, the company has decided that they are going to cast "an unknown" to play Bruce Banner and The Hulk in the film.

"Oh, now, wait a minute," you say.  "How do you know Edward Norton didn't just pass on the role?  After all, he's a serious actor and he's got other jobs, and maybe he doesn't want to play The Hulk again."

I sat down with Norton at SXSW this year, and one of the things we discussed was this exact scenario.  At the time, he seemed to me to be interested in being part of "The Avengers" if the script and the director came together in an interesting way.  This was before Whedon was hired, so it was all just hypothetical.  Thing is, according to these same sources, Whedon's been meeting the cast, laying out his plans for the film, and so far everyone seems incredibly excited by what they're hearing.  Hell, James Gunn and Nathon Fillion were Tweeting recently about how they hung out with Joss and what they heard convinced them that "The Avengers" is going to be insane.

One of the people who Whedon met with was Norton, and I'd love to know what they talked about.  What I do know is that both Whedon and Norton reported their enthusiasm back to Marvel, and according to some calls I made today, it even sounds like Norton was making serious plans with his agency to keep his dates clear.  And then...

... nothing.  Marvel made a decision to hire an unknown, and they informed Norton that they won't be using him in the film.  And that is evidently that.

So let me see if I've got this straight.  You've got Edward Norton eager to make a film, eager to co-star with Robert Downey, Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth (plus, one would assume, Scarlet Johansson and whoever else they add to the roster), but what I can only presume are money issues are going to stop you from hiring him?

I know Marvel Studios has made a reputation for themselves as shrewd businessmen.  I know that.  I get it.  I respect that.  It's a weird time for movie financing, and anyone thinking outside the box is in a position to win these days.  But the entire Marvel business plan of the last few years has been building towards "The Avengers."  This is the moment.  This is the thing you guys can do that no other company can pull off.  Now is not the time to let a few figures get in the way of making the right deal.

I can only speak for myself, but I'll put the question to fandom in general:  when The Avengers step out onto that stage at Comic-Con in a few weeks, who do you want to see standing there as Bruce Banner?  Edward Norton?  Or someone "more affordable"?  At this point, Marvel, I feel like you've made us all a promise, and I would love for you to fulfill that promise.  I've got calls in to sources on both ends of the story to try to figure out exactly how far apart the Marvel offer and the Norton camp are in terms of money, but even in early conversations, it sounds like a deal could be made here, and simply wasn't.  Norton's desire to return to the role was so palpable at SXSW, and that was before he met with Whedon, that I can't imagine he would refuse to negotiate or find some way to satisfy Marvel. so the question is really why won't Marvel try to make Norton happy at all when he obviously brings so much weight to the team?

Right now, Marvel appears to have moved on.  I'm hoping it's not too late for them to go back to Norton and make things right.  I hope that after whatever he discussed with Whedon, his enthusiasm wouldn't be dampened by a business hiccup.  Fingers crossed, there's still time to fix this before Comic-Con.  Prove to us in San Diego that you're doing "The Avengers" right.  Show us that it matters to you.  Tell us that continuity does matter, and that you're prepared to make one of the biggest movies of all time.

Or cheap out.  It's your call.

But I promise you... fandom is paying attention.  And your next move will say volumes about which way "The Avengers" is heading.

"Avengers assemble" is more than just a nifty slogan for a ball cap.  It's a call to arms for a one-of-a-kind movie event.  Please... treat it that way.  The rewards will be worth the effort.

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You can e-mail me at drew@hitfix.com or follow me on Twitter, where I'm DrewAtHitFix.