Ms. Tree: Skeleton in the Closet–Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty return for a second volume of classic crime stories

Review by C.J. Bunce

From 1977 to 1993, noted crime writer Max Allan Collins was writing stories “ripped from the headlines” in the Dick Tracy comic strip.  Some of Collins’ proposed stories were too racy for the average daily newspaper, so Collins took this as an opportunity to introduce the stories in the pages of Ms. Tree, a series published then by Eclipse.   A year ago, I reviewed a new collection of classic Ms. Tree stories from the 1980s, penned twenty years before Jessica Jones, written by Collins and illustrated by artist Terry BeattyMs. Tree: One Mean Mother.  Ms. Michael Tree is the 6-foot tall, 9 mm pistol-toting private eye with a clever homonym name, referred to as the “female Mike Hammer” in the stories written by the man who would take over the character from Mickey Spillane.  She borrows something real and gritty from Erle Stanley Gardner’s detective Bertha Cool and her brand of sleuthing, certainly unique for the 1980s.  The Hard Case Crime imprint of Titan Comics is publishing the second volume of Ms. Tree stories next month, five more stories from the dark corners of big city life, in Ms. Tree: Skeleton in the Closet.  Classic Collins crime tales in the comics are like his 21st century crime novels–they do not disappoint.

In The Devil’s Punchbowl a girl is spirited away by a cult and religious extremists square off against Satanists in the suburbs as Ms. Tree tracks her killers.  In the title story Ms. Tree confronts homophobes and meets up with a hero that plays out like a progenitor of the Kingsman stories.  Ms. Tree’s stepson is the accused as Ms. Tree takes the case of a college crime in Cry Rape.   Collins and Beatty were inspired by Hell House and The Legend of Hell House for the story Horror Hotel.  We meet Tree’s partner, Roger Fremont, in two Roger’s Story insert stories And see if you can see ideas for Collins’ character Quarry come through in the final story, To Live and Die in Vietnam.  The 268 pages play out like a crime TV series, more Law & Order “current issue” stories than the Magnum, p.i. style in the first volume.

With a style (in both writing and artwork) like Mike Grell’s Green Arrow, especially his 1993 The Wonder Year mini-series, Collins populates his story with an atypical team of supporting characters.  Characters like Tree’s friend on the police force Rafe Valer, and her colleague Dan Green, who has a hook for a hand in a call-out to J.J. Armes, the famous real-life detective in the 1970s.  In case you missed it, Ms. Tree was featured in an earlier Hard Case Crime novel by Collins, Deadly Beloved.

Take a look at some interior pages courtesy of Hard Case Crime, for Ms. Tree: Skeleton in the Closet:

As you’d expect from Max Allan Collins, this is another solid read.  Ms. Tree: Skeleton in the Closet is the second volume in the new graphic novel series, available for pre-order now here at Amazon, arriving in October.  Both the first book in this reprint series, Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother, and this new volume are being released in full-color, full-sized comic, paperback format.  You can also order these books from Elite Comics or your local comic book store.

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