Ms. Tree was the most well-known comic book creation of author Max Allan Collins prior to his graphic novel, Road to Perdition. Terry Beatty was the series' artist.
Character Biography and Synopsis
The title character is Michael Tree, a female private detective who takes over her husband's investigation business when he is murdered. In her first case, she captures the murderer and discovers his link to the Muerta organized crime family.
Ms. Tree's dead husband was named Michael Tree, the joke being that after the marriage they had the same name. Series creator/writer Max Allan Collins makes no secret of the fact that Ms. Tree was inspired by Velda, Mike Hammer's secretary, a stacked, gun carrying, six-foot tall brunette and Mike's lover, who was almost as tough as he was. The basic premise of Ms. Tree was, "What if Velda and Mike Hammer eventually got married, and on their honeymoon he was murdered?"
Throughout the series, in addition to isolated cases, Ms. Tree's vendetta against the Muerta family is a major plot thread. Her methods often include deadly violence which she uses with little hesitation. In contrast to genre conventions, she faces serious consequences throughout the series for these violent actions including arrest, imprisonment, commitment to a mental hospital, and involuntary medication.
In another genre divergence, the male Michael Tree's son, Mike (of course), inadvertently falls in love with the daughter of the Muerta matron. The female Michael disapproves of this arrangement but respects her stepson's decision. To her shock, when their relationship grows enough to make marriage probable, the Muerta family decides Mike's stepmother is now family and initiates a reconciliation with her while going legit.
In addition, Michael is impregnated by an old flame who is manipulating her to kill his wife. She decides to keep the baby, creating a unique series of adventures of this homicidal PI fighting off criminals even while dealing with a full term pregnancy while the mob family she hates moves to protect her in their own way.
Ms. Tree was extraordinary in that it frequently dealt with controversial political and sexual issues, yet never used that as a venue to push a particular biased opinion. As Kevin Burton Smith, editor of the Thrilling Detective Web Site put it, "How many other P.I.s have...dealt with the topics of homophobia, abortion [and bombing of abortion clinics], devil worship, child pornography, date rape and incest? And not just dealt with them, but asked some pretty damn hard questions that aren't easily answered by either end of the political spectrum. And all this in a comic book! It's a shame how many readers will never know of the existence of this series (due to the medium) because Ms. Tree is one of the most thought-provoking, and entertaining, private eyes around."
Hard Case Crime
In 2007, Hard Case Crime
published Deadly Beloved
, the first novel about Ms. Tree. The book was written by Max Allan Collins, with a painted cover by Ms. Tree co-creator Terry Beatty. The character's first appearance in 14 years, Deadly Beloved
has received generally positive reviews; it currently has a four-star rating (of five possible) on Amazon.com.
- One of the series' conceits, often alluded to in the narrative but never acknowledged explicitly in the comic books, is that its title character is the daughter of Dragnet protagonist Joe Friday. In Deadly Beloved we finally see the character, pre-marriage, referred to as "Miss Friday".
- Throughout much of the series, Ms. Tree is armed with a Sterling .380 - a horrible, cheap handgun. Eventually cluing in, Collins rearmed her with a SIG P225 9mm, a much more serious weapon.
- The character frequently uses her handbag as a weapon, bludgeon style swung on the end of its straps, which, weighted with her SIG, proves a 9mm can stop people in more ways than one.
- The main character's real first name is actually Michael; when friends want to irritate her they deliberately mispronounce it as "Michelle". Michael Tree hates being called Michelle.
- The comic book was published by different companies including Eclipse Comics, Aardvark-Vanaheim, Renegade Press and finally, DC Comics.
- Ms. Tree's introduction and first storyline appeared in the first six issues of Eclipse Magazine, a newsstand-magazine-sized, black-and-white anthology title. Almost all her other appearances were in standard-sized black-and-white comic books; most storylines were multi-issue affairs. A notable exception was DC Comics' Ms. Tree Quarterly (renamed Ms. Tree Special for its last two issues) which was comic-sized but much thicker than a typical comic book, with a much higher page count, and presented a full-color, complete Ms. Tree story in every issue.
- The first three issues of the Eclipse Comics comic book were titled Ms. Tree's Thrilling Detective Stories. This was shortened to Ms. Tree with issue #4.
- Ms. Tree has actually had her own one-issue 3-D comic, called, appropriately enough, Ms. Tree 3-D. Every issue of this throwback to the 1950s (in 1985!) came with its own pair of 3-D spectacles.
- Max Allan Collins has written four Ms. Tree prose short stories. "Red Light" (1984) and "The Little Woman" (1985) appeared in issues #1 and #2 of The Files of Ms. Tree. "Louise" (1992) and "Inconvenience Store" (1994) appeared in the prose anthologies Deadly Allies and Deadly Allies #2.
Ms. Tree Publication History
- "I, for an Eye", Eclipse Magazine #1, May 1981 (first appearance of Ms. Tree) thru #6, July 1982
- "Death Do Us Part" (1982, Ms. Tree's Thrilling Detective Stories #1-3)
- "The Cold Dish" (1983, Ms. Tree #4-8)
- "Murder at Mohawk" (1984, Ms. Tree #9)
- "Deadline" (1984, Ms. Tree #10-13)
- "Skin Deep" (1984, Ms. Tree #14-15)
Aardvark-Vanaheim/Renegade Press co-publishers
- "Runaway" (1985, Ms. Tree #16-17)
- "Muerta Means Death" Part 1 (1985, Ms. Tree #18)
- "Muerta Means Death" Parts 2-4 (1985, Ms. Tree #19-21)
- "Right to Die" (1985, Ms. Tree #22-23)
- "Prisoner in Cell Block Hell" (1985, Ms. Tree #24-25)
- "Heroine Withdrawal" (1986, Ms. Tree #26-27)
- "Roger's Story" (1986, Ms. Tree #28)
- "The Other Cheek" (1986, Ms. Tree #29-31)
- "Runaway II" (1986, Ms. Tree #32-34)
- "New Year's Evil" (1986, Ms. Tree #35)
- "When Dynamite Explodes" (1987, Ms. Tree #36)
- "Like Father" (1987, Ms. Tree #37-40)
- "Coming of Rage" (1987, Ms. Tree #41-44)
- "Murder Cruise" (1988, Ms. Tree #45-48)
- "Fallen Tree" (1989, Ms. Tree #49-50)
- "Death, Danger and Diamonds" (1985, Ms. Tree 3-D)
- "Music to Murder By" (1986, Ms. Tree Rock & Roll Summer Special)
- "Gift of Death" (1990, Ms. Tree Quarterly #1)
- "The Devil's Punchbowl" (1990, Ms. Tree Quarterly #2)
- "Skeleton in the Closet" (1990, Ms. Tree Quarterly #3)
- "Drop Dead Handsome" (1991, Ms. Tree Quarterly #4)
- "Cry Rape" (1991, Ms. Tree Quarterly #5)
- "Horror Hotel" (1991, Ms. Tree Quarterly #6)
- "The Family Way" (Spring 1992, Ms. Tree Quarterly #7)
- "Maternity Leave" (Summer 1992, Ms. Tree Quarterly #8)
- "One Mean Mother" (1992, Ms. Tree Special #9)
- "To Live and Die in Vietnam" (1993, Ms. Tree Special #10)
Hard Case Crime
- Deadly Beloved (Novel) (2007)
- The Files of Ms. Tree (1984) reprints “I, for an Eye” (Eclipse Magazine #1-6) and “Death Do Us Part” (Ms. Tree's Thrilling Detective Stories #1-3)
- The Cold Dish: The Files of Ms. Tree, Volume 2 (1985) reprints "The Cold Dish" (Ms. Tree #4-8)
- The Mike Mist Casebook: The Files of Ms. Tree, Volume 3 (1986) reprints "Murder at Mohawk" (Ms. Tree #9)
- Ms. Tree (1988, small paperback collection, reprints Ms. Tree #16-23)