Robot reviews: Another kids' comics round-up

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Nancy Vol. Oneby John StanleyDrawn and Quarterly, 128 pages, $24.95.

When faced with the challenge of adapting Ernie Bushmiller's classic comic strip to longer comic book format, John Stanley's response was simple and economical: Turn her into Little Lulu.

That's the only conclusion I can come to after reading this collection of stories in D&Q's ongoing "John Stanley Library" project. Nancy is pretty much Lulu with frizzier hair, Sluggo is a thinner and slightly more benign Tubby. There's even a snotty rich kid and bratty little boy similar to Wilbur and Alvin. Stanley even repeats one of his Tubby stories involving a burglar almost note for note.

That doesn't make Nancy a bad book by any stretch of the imagination. Mediocre Stanley is still miles above most people's best work. The best stories here though are the ones involving Oona Goosepimple, an odd, Wednesday Addams-type girl who supernatural antics cause no end of anxiety for poor Nancy. It's those stories where Stanley -- freed of the Bushmiller formula -- really gets inventive and inspired. If the ratio of Oona stories increases as the volumes do, then I'll keep buying these books as long as D&Q are able to get them out.

Reviews of Moomin, Amulet and more can be found after the jump ...

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The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little Myby Tove JanssonDrawn and Quarterly, 20 pages, $16.95.

I'm a sucker for die-cut books -- anything that plays upon the whole "Oh, it looks like it's part of the page, but look closely and you'll see it's a window into the next one" thing gets extra points from me. And D&Q has already won me over on Jansson with the wonderful job they've done reprinting her Moomin strips, so it's not like I had to be won over with the company's first entry in their new kids Enfant line. The only real surprise here is Jansson's lovely use of limited color and composition on these expansive two-page spreads. So yeah, it's a great book that will be sure to please the young and old at heart. Buy it, read it, enjoy it.

Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hoodby Tony Lee, Sam Hart and Artur FujitaCandlewick Press, 21.95.

This is a rather odd and needlessly dark and depressing retelling of the Robin Hood tale. Honestly I'm really not quite sure what to make of it. Are kids really clamoring for some sort of gritty, psychological portrait version of this story? Isn't the whole point of Robin that he's carefree and dashing and not burdened by guilt? Shouldn't the art be featherlight, colorful and fun, with detailed, intricate backgrounds that convey a sense of place instead of having everyone constantly drawn in half-shadow or worse and clumsy coloring that seems splotched on by a computer? Maybe it's my own nostalgia talking, but I can't imagine young readers preferring for an instant this version of the character over one of the countless other variations that already exist, both in and out of comics.

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Amulet Book Two: The Stonekeeper's Curseby Kazu KibuishiScholastic, $21.99.

There's nothing particularily surprising or original in Kibuishi's ongoing fantasy series. It follows the plot and themes of countless other young adult books -- there's an evil dictator , a bad guy who's conflicted about the side he's working for, a talisman that grants its user fabulous powers, assorted wise men, amusing sidekicks and two plucky kids who find themselves tested by an inheritance they'd rather not have.

But if Amulet treads upon familiar ground, it nevertheless remains a captivating and enchanting read, largely due to Kibuishi's skills as an artist and storyteller. He paces the tale exceedingly well, gives his characters just enough detail and back story to make them seem more than cardboard cut-outs and never gets so bogged down in the mythology of the world he's created that the reader becomes bored or disinterested. Really, Amulet is an excellent lesson in how to deliver a satisfying genre exercise that both stands apart and with the crowd. If I were interested in creating something similar I'd be studying the hell out of this book.

Vermonia Vol. 1: Quest for the Silver Tigerby YoYoCandlewick Press, $9.99.

As if to underscore my point about how the importance of execution comes this dull, confusing, ill-thought-out manga about a group of skateboarding teens who turn out to have the necessary power or inheritance or what-have-you needed to save a lost world. The whole thing is a muddled, inane mess, and really only serves to show just how much effort and skill went into Amulet.

Stone Rabbit: Deep-Space Discoby Erik CraddockRandom House, $5.99

This, on the other hand, I liked quite a bit. It's got a nice, manic energy and Craddock has a clean, crisp style that suggests many years spent in the animation trenches. It's basically about a put-upon rabbit who constantly gets ridiculous capers. In this particular case that means getting mistaken by space aliens for a dangerous interplanetary killer while the real killer assumes his identity on planet Earth.  It's replete with the type of one-liners and non-sequitar jokes you find in most children's cartoon TV programs these days, but thankfully it doesn't feel the least bit pandering or smarmy. Plus, the jokes are actually kinda funny.

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