Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Ms.Tree - Deadline!

The Ms.Tree stories by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty in this collection are some of the earliest, from 1984 and 1985 when the series was picked up by Aardvark -Vanaheim and later Renegade Press. The printing is different than that from Eclipse since only two-colors are used, sometimes red tones and sometimes blue. This limited color might not have worked for all comics, but it served the noir world of Ms. Tree quite well. It should also be noted that Gary Kato is assisting on the artwork in these stories. 

The first four issues of this collection deal with a single story entitled "Deadline" which gave its name to the complete Titan collection as well. Ms. Tree is drawn into a string of serial murders which at first  appear to be random, but then relate to events which took place years before when Michael Tree (then named Friday) went to high school. Those events involved a gang rape. The killer is relentless and for a time seems connected to the Muerta mob as well. A reporter tries to get Ms. Tree to assist him on this case, but that turns out poorly. 

"Skin Deep" deals with a hot topic in those 80's years, a black beauty queen who had some nude pictures which might end up in a porn magazine. Ms. Tree is hired to investigate on the behalf of her friend and ally on the police force, Rafe Valer. His sister is the beauty queen in question. It's an interesting solution.  As it turns out, pornography will be an element of other stories in this collection. 

Aardvark-Vanaheim had been run by Dave Sim and his wife Deni Loubert (Sim as artist and owner and Loubert as publisher). When they divorced it created a schism which was reflected in the fact that both companies are named as publishers of this Ms.Tree story. This story titled "Runaway" deals with young kids who run away from home and find themselves swept up in all manner of dangerous situations. The problem is brought home to Ms.Tree when her stepson does indeed run away. A desperate search is made, and she meets other parents who have lost their kids. Eventually her search leads her to confront the threat of pedophiles. 

We jump ahead a few years for the next story published by Renegade Press only. The artwork on these stories seems a little more refined in some ways, the two-color approach being used with some more subtlety. The story titled "Runaway II" deals again with kids who have left home but this time focuses on young women who get snapped up into pornography, both of the printed and cinematic kind. One young woman has seemingly killed herself and Ms. Tree is searching for another and finds her, but she seems to have found some measure of control in her life. There are many characters in this story who are neither good nor evil, but supremely human and at times exceedingly weak. That said, there is a real threat as Ms. Tree discovers when she finds herself trussed up with Christmas lights. 

The collection closes out with a story which sees Ms. Tree and Mike Mist team up. They are up against a couple of thugs named Bert and Ernie who are not afraid to kill. The two along with a young woman who sought Mist's help would set up couples and rob them. When the girl is killed, Mist and Ms. Tree head to Honolulu to get to the bottom of this scandalous threat. This one is in black and white as it was originally produced for one of Renegade's 3-D books. 

All of these Ms. Tree stories are gritty and have a depth of character uncommon in many if not most comics of the era. Since these stories are in the tradition of Mike Hammer, Michael Tree is not shy about using her gun. It's hard to see how she doesn't get into more trouble with the police with the bodies she drops here and there and seemingly everywhere. But still it's great to have these stories in a highly readable format from Titan. 

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