ascThis year’s San Diego ComicCon (Comic Con? Comicon? ComiCon? It’s all this and more)was a huge, immense, busy, fun, drunken, troublemaking event for the crew. I was there for the first time along with Nick Nunziata, Dave Davis, Russ Fischer and a small crew of friends and companions that included message board legends like The Hellboy and Andre Dellamorte, the once and future Mr. Beaks (formerly of Aint It Cool, now of, Thor himself, Sean "Overrated ET" Fahey and more.

Over the course of this week we’ll be unleashing unholy fury upon you as we transcribe hours and hours of tape covering films like The Fog, Superman Returns, Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and more. Here’s my opening salvo:

On Saturday afternoon I had a chance to sit down with Avi Arad, the madman of Marvel Movies. He’s the guy at the center of the almost perfect storm of Marvel comic properties coming to the big screen, and he was pretty happy about the Fantastic Four, which was well on its way to crossing over to 100 million dollars in its second weekend of release. Avi was there to flog Ghost Rider, but he was more than happy to talk about the plethora of Marvel properties slouching towards the cineplex.

Q: Marvel has a huge upcoming slate. Ghost Rider is what you’re here to promote this weekend – when is that coming out?

Arad: Ghost Rider is going to be August 06, unless things change. The movie wrapped. It’s now in post-production. It’s a movie we’ve tried to make for a long time, actually with the same team. Mark, Nic and myself have been into this – actually at one time Mark and I started to give up on the movie and looked into doing a live action television show but then we pulled out. Don’t give up!

Nic has stuck with it and been great. We wanted to have a certain tone, we didn’t want to have just the dark side, especially when you have Nic Cage. It’s a unique ability by him to do quirky stuff. It’s not just about life sucks. The whole idea about Ghost Rider is that it takes a minute to turn and a lifetime to turn back. It’s our Devil and Daniel Webster.

Q: It’s a redemption story.

Arad: It’s a redemption story, yes. We want to do it in a way that we can get a large audience. There’s a light side to the movie. There are very few actors who can deliver the casangst that Johnny Blaze has, but when he looks at his own situation can laugh at destiny any embrace his own calling, if you will. Say, it’s not so bad, I can deal with it. And then he gets a girl. All of our movies they get the girl in the end.

Q: Ghost Rider is an interesting property to have coming out because it’s a lesser known character while some of the biggest properties still haven’t made it to the screen. Captain America is maybe one of the best known comic book characters ever, but there’s no movie. What’s up with that property?

Arad: We’re about to start. The big ones that are about to happen – with our universe because of our writers and the interest in our characters, when we get started on it, we will make it. You have Captain America, you have Thor, you have Nick Fury. We are pretty advanced on Submariner. There are others like Killraven, Power Pack, Black Widow, Black Panther. It’s endless and there are many that aren’t as well known outside the comic book community but once you take the concept out and explain it, it becomes very cinematic. Some of them more than others.

Q: Are you concerned that with so many comic books coming to screens audiences will get burnt out on superhero films?

Arad: No, I think it’s like the same question would be fair if you said, “Are people fed up with making movies based on novels?” It’s just another form of literature, and what’s so great about this literature is that it’s the only literature that’s storyboarded out in advance. So as a filmmaker and a writer when you look at it and say, I get the mood, I get the tone, now I need to do that within the realm of our world. But the men are the same, the women are the same, the heart is the same, the metaphor is the same.

So when you look at us and say there are so many – we just completed a script on a comic book called Deathlok. Raven [Metzner] and Stu [Zicherman] just handed it in on the way here.  If you go to the movies you’ll say, “That’s based on a comic?” You’ll ask it. As you know in the book it was internal, we made it external. It’s a fable about our future, which is already here. Look at all these guys with Bluetooth.

Q: That cyborg stuff is barely science fiction.csa

Arad: We change our eyes! Can you imagine going to the doctor to shave your retina so you can see better? Now we do it with ears and hips. That’s not science fiction, it’s science.

So it depends on how you treat these movies. That’s our job, to be careful. When we went to the Fantastic Four we treated it as a comedy, a dysfunctional family action comedy. And that’s what’s it’s supposed to be.

Q: That’s why it worked, I think.

Arad: That’s why it worked – in spite of the reviews!

Q: Actually, I gave it a positive review. I thought it captured the tone of the early Stan Lee and Jack Kirby comics very well.

Arad: That’s exactly it. If you know the Fantastic Four you could close your eyes and figure out the scene. There are very few universes you can have as much fun with as the Fantastic Four because their powers are every day powers. Sunday morning your kid asks you for cereal and you sit reading the paper, “Ach, I don’t feel like getting up…”

Each one of our characters you just have to define. Nick Fury – Nick Fury to me always was, there’s no American James Bond. James Bond is an incredible franchise based on what a British 007 would be, but you don’t have a franchise based on what an American guy would be with the same job, belief, everything. That’s Nick Fury. So if you do him right, no one will care what it is based on if it’s good.

Q: Word is that Bruce Willis is interested in Nick Fury. Can you comment on that?

Arad: I think he is interested. We are talking.

Q: The most successful Marvel films have been the Spider-Man films. There’s a lot of anticipation for the third one, and people were hoping you would announce the villains this weekend. How come we haven’t been told who the villains are yet?

Arad: Officially? It’s marketing. I think that Spider-Man is 2007, so if Sony went out there today and told you who the villains are? We love the guessing game. You look at Topher Grace and you say, “Topher Grace – a skinny guy? I wonder who he could be?” Then you look at Thomas Hayden Church. They’re picking these great actors and they could be one of fifteen villains, so who are they? That’s what we love to do with our movies. That’s why we come to this convention; the buzz on the floor is the guessing game. It’s good for all of us because there’s anticipation.

I think Topher to me was the most fun, because I never got so many calls. You have to do inspired casting for these films; you can’t be too on the nose. With Kelsey Grammar, first people stopped breathing and then they went actually it’s a good idea. It’s fun for us and it’s good for marketing.

Q: Well, let’s feed the guessing game. I have heard that Topher is going blonde for the role.

Arad: That’s a rumor.

Q: But is it a true rumor?

Arad: Rumors are always fun!

Q: Well, speaking of Kelsey Grammar, he’s starring in X3. The pre-production on thatcas has been, frankly, troubled –

Arad: Complicated.

Q: Definitely complicated. Directors have come and gone, as have scripts and cast members. Are you worried that being locked into such a solid release date is going to have a negative impact on the quality of the film?

Arad: No. It’s a team. It’s our fourth movie together. We couldn’t have survived all this if we didn’t have a great team together, and all the stars. They’re there!

Q: How do you deal with the fact that sometimes these scripts leak out?

Arad: It gets me mad. It gets me mad. I just hate the fact that we serve things prematurely. The writers take crap for it and everybody is getting pressure. And we don’t deserve it. At the end of the day – no complaints! We just released our 12th movie. 11, I think, were pretty good. We are working – you take Spider-Man, I cannot tell you how hard it is to make this incredible movie we are working on and not spoil the fun. Sam Raimi is a master of surprise; he used to be a magician as a kid. Part of the fun is that you want to come to the movie house and not know exactly what you’re going to see. When they do this stealing the stuff and showing it to everybody, it ruins it for everyone.