A good clean adaptation.

*Nothing like waking up bright and early, shuffling off the work, sitting yourself down, glancing at the front page of USA Today that somebody else is hiding behind, and seeing good old blue-eyed Ben Grimm staring right back at you from the front page. Yes, Michael Chiklis got the prime spot at gas stations all around our fine nation today, and there were many more photos of the “Fantastic Four” movie cast inside. You can see for yourself here. The Thing’s somewhat leathery, muddy body matches up pretty well with the recent Jae Lee depiction of the character (which is something of a throwback to Jack Kirby‘s earliest character designs anyway); of course, Lee knows how to exploit this look for good visual effect, as I noted in my review of the “Hard Knocks” miniseries thus far. How this leaner, lumpier Thing will look in motion on the big screen remains to be seen. Ioan Gruffudd as Reed Richards looks oddly like a younger Max Weinberg of Conan O’Brien and Bruce Springsteen fame. Chris Evans looks like he’s all ready to head up a WB teen drama. And Jessica Alba looks prepared to belt out a pop single (oooh, they can work the song into the plot, like in “Macross“!!!).

I think they all look decent, even if Reed’s too young and Johnny’s not blonde.

*In literary news, Laura links to Trash Heap linking to the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000, from the American Library Association, in recognition of Banned Books Week, Sept. 25-Oct. 2. So who’s on top? Madonna’s infamous “Sex”? Mark Twain’s perennially controversial “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”? “Harry Potter”, always in Her Satanic Majesty’s service? Feh! Mere amateurs. Representing from the top of the heap is a real keystone work in kids’ literature, the almighty “Scary Stories” series by Alvin Schwartz. Take that, R.L. Stine!

A trio of collections of urban legends, folk tales, and contemporary campfire chillers, “Scary Stories” blew my mind when I was a little kid. This stuff did not pull punches. The classic ’spider laying eggs in a young girl’s skin’ story. A variation on the old “The Lady Vanishes” plot. Evil substitute mothers with wooden tails arriving to punish naughty children. They’re all here, and it’s the first place many of us heard of these old (and new) chestnuts. There was even a little annotations section in the back, filling us in on the origins of many of these little stories. It really got me interested in fables and folklore.

And then there’s Stephen Gammell’s illustrations. Himself an accomplished children’s book author, Gammell contributed some of the most freakish and vivid inky horrors this little kid had ever seen. Just look at this stuff! It’s great! It’s more effective than a lot of the adult-targeted horror illustrations I’ve seen, and it had a way of burning into a kid’s mind.

And I loved it. I’d look for other books with similar titles but not of the same series, and I’d be crushed at the comparatively low quality of the material. Nothing had the same bite. Borders put out an omnibus collection of all three volumes for $10 a while back, and it’s definitely worth flipping through again. At least it was for me; that book was an indelible part of my childhood!

And how did “Where’s Waldo?” get on the list?!

*And on a sad note, Russ Meyer has passed away. Truly one of the innovators of exploitation cinema, and a genuinely unique talent in the world of low-down independent filmmaking. He will be missed. (Found at Franklin's)