Ms. Tree Gets Hers Today

September 3rd, 2019 by Max Allan Collins


Today is the publication date of Ms Tree 1: One Mean Mother from Titan. I don’t know how much presence it will have in the graphic novel sections of Barnes & Noble, BAM! and so on, but it’s available from the usual online suspects (Amazon has it for $17.49, 30% off the retail price).

I’ve already gotten some complaints over my beginning the reprint series with material from the last iteration of the comic book, DC’s Ms. Tree Quarterly. We did ten graphic novellas there, and One Mean Mother gathers five of them, which together form a graphic novel, admittedly an episodic one.

The remaining DC graphic novellas are free-standing, and will make up the second of these five collections, which will comprise the complete Ms. Tree – almost. A few crossovers are not included (notably the P.I.s mini-series, which co-starred Mike Mauser) and the story in which Ms. Tree tracks down a certain long-missing private eye, which will appear next March in Craig Yoe’s Johnny Dynamite collection, which Terry Beatty and I are editing. (I am working on the intro today.)

But these five volumes are the body of work that I am very pleased to have in this format. Why start at the end? Well, I feel it’s our best work, and it was done in color, so I’m just putting our best foot forward. I have been told that when several volumes collecting a strip or comic book feature are published, the first volume sells the best and the sales gradually go down. Also – though it was many years ago – the first issues of Ms. Tree (and the serialized “origin” in Eclipse Magazine) have already been collected in three trade paperbacks.

Our celebrated letters column (SWAK!) will not appear or even be excerpted. They are so politically incorrect, I would probably be jailed, or at least shunned. Times have changed, although not enough to make our then topical subject matter seem dated. It’s a sad fact that most of the crimes and problems these continuities deal with – abortion clinic bombings, gay bashing, date rape – are still very much with us.

If you aren’t familiar with Ms. Tree, she is basically a take on what would have happened to Mike Hammer’s secretary/partner Velda had she and Mike married, and the groom been murdered on their wedding night. The answer is two-fold – she would take over the business, and her first case would be tracking down her husband’s killer. This does not mean Ms. Tree is Velda – each is her own woman. But that “what if” notion was our starting point.

The other thing you should know is that Ms. Tree was the first of the wave of tough female private eyes that became an ‘80s phenomenon in mystery fiction – pre-dating the great V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Milhone by my friends Sara Paretsky and the late Sue Grafton respectively.

We’re proud of that fact, which was noted in a really nice three-part article here (Ms. Tree gets a lot of space in Part Two but the entire article is worth visiting).

Even if you have the original comics, this series of Ms. Tree volumes is something you need for your bookshelf. You also need to tell your friends about the books and urge them to get onboard. I’m just trying to be helpful.

Comics scripting has always been a secondary part of my career, and to some comics fan I’m still best known for my “abysmal” year of Batman (subject of a recent podcast by nimrods with nothing worthwhile to be doing). To most, Road to Perdition is my claim to fame (or anyway less infamy), and I do think that graphic novel, in many respects, is my best single work. Others might cite my fifteen years writing the Dick Tracy strip, and I’m of course proud of that. But I think the most influential and probably important work was what Terry and I did on Ms. Tree. We didn’t just jumpstart female private eyes, we re-introduced tough crime/mystery to comic books, and paved the way for a lot of people to do their own good work (some were fans of ours who frankly seem to have forgotten that).

So if you are a reader of my prose fiction, and think comic books are for the boids, you really should bite the bullet and buy these five books, as the volumes gradually emerge from Titan. No less an expert than Kevin Burton Smith of the great Thrilling Detective web site considers Ms. Tree my greatest creation, topping even Nate Heller and Quarry. I’m not sure he’s right, but I’m not sure he’s wrong, either.

One thing is indisputable – Ms. Tree was the longest running private eye comic book to date…sixty issues plus various “specials.”

Lots of coverage on the net about the first of the Ms. Tree collected volumes has popped up. Here’s just one.

Jerry House did something everyone should do: he read seven novels by me in a week and a half. See what a piker you are? Then he produced one of the coolest, and I will immodestly say insightful, pieces ever written about my work.

Finally, here’s a really nice look at the Cinemax version of Quarry.


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4 Responses to “Ms. Tree Gets Hers Today”

  1. Glad to hear this. Going to get my copy ASAP.

  2. Mike Doran says:

    Just a note to let you know that the Titan/Hard Case edition of Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother arrived from Amazon yesterday afternoon, one day (more or less) after I placed the order (The Amazon people do know their job, don’t they?).
    This doesn’t mean, of course, that I’ll be getting rid of the DC originals any time soon – or ever, comes to that (too much other Good Stuff).

    That aside, things are slow (and getting slower) with me, as I careen headlong into senescence.
    My highlight this morning was learning how to pronounce Taoiseach, the official title of the Irish Prime Minister.
    You’d think that since I am of that persuasion, I’d at least have had a clue …
    Anyway, the correct Gaelic pronunciation is TEE-shock.
    (Which I guarantee that no one in the current Administration would have a chance of knowing, at any hand.)
    Use it in good health (if you don’t mind winning the immediate hatred of anybody who hears you …).

    Come Sunday afternoon, our friend Bob Goldsborough will be appearing at Centuries & Sleuths with some fellow alumni of the Chicago Tribune; I hope to God that politics doesn’t come up …

    All the best to the Collins Dynasty!

  3. Ed Morrissey says:

    Got my copy of One Mean Mother today. Looking forward to finally reading the Ms. Tree stories. When they first came out in the 80s-90s, I didn’t have too much disposable income back then. Sorry. Very grateful for this chance to catch up.

    Also got a copy of The Complete Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy Volume 26, with another fine intro by you, last month. As this collection includes a lot of stuff I had read as a kid when it first came out, I was glad you liked it as well. And yeah, Vera Alldid was a real load.

  4. Andreas Bengtsson says:

    Ordered a copy and cannot wait to read it. Is there any chance you will write another prose-novel about Ms Tree. I loved Deadly Beloved.