by Ken Dahl (Secret Acres)

INDIE COMICS are so relentless in their navel-gazing that it's hard to imagine an aspect of hipster life that hasn't already been done to cutesy, shaky-lined death. But Ken Dahl's got one, in his graphic novel Monsters: herpes!

Dahl's autobiographical comic describes his life in the several years after he's been diagnosed with herpes. You'd think he had leprosy, for all the melodrama and despair with which he approaches his condition—he's glum, downtrodden, convinced he'll die without ever having sex again. He even gets an imaginary friend, a globby, self-interested herpes germ that counsels him to sleep around, the better to spread the virus. It's an improbable subject for a full-length graphic novel, but in Dahl's hands Monsters is educational and deftly funny, a gentle reminder to keep things—even STDs—in perspective. ALISON HALLETT

Old Man Logan

by Mark Millar & Steve McNiven (Marvel)

Bloody, outlandish, and a hell of a lot of fun, Old Man Logan feels like what'd happen if Sergio Leone made a Wolverine movie. Set 50 years in the future of the Marvel Universe, Old Man Logan finds the world-weary X-Man formerly known as Wolverine scratching out a living in the dusty, post-apocalyptic wastes of California; there and elsewhere, the world's supervillains have killed off almost all of the superheroes. But soon enough, Logan sets out on a cross-country trek that's at once grim (world-weariness!) and preposterous (dinosaurs! mole men! the Spider-Mobile!). Naturally, massive panels showing off Wolverine's MO—brutal, visceral, slice 'n' dice action—ain't too far behind. Writer Mark Millar and artist Steve McNiven are in top form here, and with Morry Hollowell's rich colors, Old Man Logan looks as beautiful as it reads. ERIK HENRIKSEN

Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai

by Stan Sakai (Dark Horse)

For 25 years, the long-running comic Usagi Yojimbo has been plugging away at the back of the Dark Horse catalog (while Hellboy gets all the attention). Stan Sakai's samurai epic follows the traveling ronin Usagi on his travels as a bodyguard for hire; that Usagi is a rabbit—that all the characters in the series are animals—adds to the appeal but never cloys. Dark Horse has just released an anniversary edition of the comic: A hardback, painted, full-color installment in which Usagi battles a horde of demons bent on taking over the world. At only 58 pages, it's a slight but gorgeous volume—and because creator Sakai writes, draws, and letters the series himself, it should come as no surprise that he hand-painted the volume as well, which stands as a testament to Sakai's dedication to his craft. ALISON HALLETT

The Troublemakers

by Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics)

Along with his brother Jamie, Gilbert Hernandez has been a mainstay in "alternative" comics for nearly 30 years. (Their signature Love and Rockets is now in its third volume.) Hernandez's latest solo work The Troublemakers is the second in a series of self-contained graphic novel "B-movies," featuring one of his recurring characters, the cannonball-breasted Rosalba "Fritz" Martinez. Here, Fritz plays Nala, one of a trio of hustlers trying to hook up with 200,000 smackers. Whether the money actually exists and who has it are anyone's guess in this drama-filled thriller—good for folks who like their graphic novels grim, gritty, and sleazy. BRAD BUCKNER