Ms. Tree takes on the room. Artist: Terry Beatty.


Medium: Comic books
Originally published by: Eclipse Enterprises
First Appeared: 1981
Creator: Max Allan Collins
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Ms. Tree is one of the few hard-boiled private eyes to last any great length of time in comics — in fact, she had a longer continuous run than any other that …

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… started out in comic books. And she's among the few female representatives of that genre to achieve fame in any medium.

Michael Tree — she eschews the feminine form, "Michelle" — inherited her detective agency when her husband, also named Michael Tree, was murdered on their wedding night. Her first big case was to bring in his killer. Since then, it's been a long succession of mob bosses, corrupt politicos, mob bosses, crazed killers, mob bosses, and especially mob bosses. Ms. Tree has positioned herself as kind of a specialist.

Writer Max Allan Collins, who created the character, envisioned her as a kind of offshoot of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer — with the late husband Michael Tree being Hammer, and the young widow Michael Tree being Hammer's tough-as-nails secretary, Velda.

Collins teamed with artist Terry Beatty to introduce Ms. Tree in the first issue of Eclipse Magazine (May, 1981). This black-and-white magazine was the first ongoing publishing effort by Eclipse Enterprises, which had hitherto put out only a couple of graphic novels but which went on to become one of the major independent comics publishers of the 1980s with credits ranging from Airboy to Zot!.

When, in 1983, Eclipse expanded its line, Ms. Tree's Thrilling Detective Adventures was one of its first single-character comics. In 1984, the publication was transferred to Aardvark-Vanaheim, and in 1985 to Renegade Comics, where it remained until it ceased publication in 1989. A total of 50 issues were published. Starting in 1987, 1950s reprints of Johnny Dynamite were used as a back-up feature. Between 1990 and 1992, DC Comics published 10 issues of Ms. Tree Quarterly. Collins and Beatty remained the creative team the entire time. They also collaborated with penciller Joe Staton on a mini-series in which she met Michael Mauser, a supporting character in E-Man, which appeared in 1985.

Collins's other credits in comics include detective Mike Mist, a minor DC character named Wild Dog, and Dick Tracy, which he took over writing when its creator, Chester Gould, retired. A long-time fan of the Tracy strip even before taking over as its writer, Collins was evidently strongly influenced by Tracy's no-nonsense attitude toward criminals — Ms. Tree became notorious, both within the stories and among real-life comics readers, for killing her adversaries. Once, in a discussion of various types of serial killers, she was asked what kind of serial killer she considered herself. "Goal-oriented," she shot back.

Despite her impressive kill record, Ms. Tree is apparently not enough of a "bad girl" to make it in the current comics market, where female characters include Vampirella and Lady Death. But she survives in prose. Collins's first Ms. Tree novel, Deadly Beloved (with a cover painted by Beatty) was published in 2006.


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Text ©2000-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty.