Well there are two routes that one can go; digital or SLR.
SLR: Harder to learn, but in the end with an infinite combination of lens, film, filters, and speedlights, you can do alot more. Because you don't get instant feedback and it doesn't record the settings, you don't learn nearly as much, as quick. Also you have the scanning issues, but in the end you first have to get the photo.
Digital: Easier to learn, often there are less functions you only have to choose a few settings. You get instant feedback so you can see what you are doing wrong and what you are doing right, all the shooting information is kept with the photos so you can reference it at later date. No scanning issues.
Which to get into, its your choise, SLR can be cheaper to buy into at first than digital, but when you get lens, films, and other assories it costs more in the end.
Digital has a high one time price, but you have no processing worries (or wait for those that are impatient), but you have a limited number of lens and such that you can complement it with.
Its you choice. I bought into both, I like it this way.
Brands to buy:
I highly suggest Nikon or Canon. Either way you are buying into the two major systems. Be warned though once you buy into a system be it Nikon or Canon it is cost prohibitive to switch. I bought into Nikon, I and many others are happy with it.
Can't really recommend anyone brand. I use Nikon agian, I am very happy with it for what I do (PJ work), some people like them but most on this board don't like the Nikon Digital (except the DSLRs). Sony, Canon, and Minolta I hear are good brands, other people can fill you in on that.
At worst, you screw up and die.