I'm about as "new" as you probably are, but my expectations are pretty similar ( I love XCom and Master of Orion style and are working the skills to go retro in those directions ).
I have been reading Killer Game Programming in Java ( search here or Amazon for links ) and it seems a good basis for starting that would work with the scope you're after. Starting w/ 1.4.2 ( and better in Java 1.5 ) Java2D can take advantge of some hardware acceleration ( there are some gotchas you'll read about later ) which means you can use Swing as well.
Of course, if I'm a bit off-base I'm sure someone with more experience will correct me...which will actually save me some headaches down the road anyway!
And nice to see you're not after making an MMOG in 21 days as your first project!!! That's refreshing around here...