Ms. Tree was the best-known comic book creation of author Max Allan Collins prior to his graphic novel, Road to Perdition. Terry Beatty was the series' artist. The character first appeared in Eclipse Magazine #1 (May, 1981), the debut publication of Eclipse Enterprises. Subsequent appearances in anthology comics were deemed successful enough, resulting in the ongoing series Ms. Tree's Thrilling Detective Adventures, later shortened to Ms. Tree. While there were a couple of changes in publisher, said series lasted for 50 issues (February, 1983-July, 1989). The character was then revived in Ms. Tree Quarterly by DC Comics, which run for 10 issues (Summer, 1990- Spring, 1993). The paperback novel Deadly Beloved followed in 2007. The character hasn't seen recent use in her original medium.
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, 6-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, the female 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.
The series contains examples of:
- 3D Comic Book: The Ms. Tree 3-D Special
- Action Mom: Michael, initially with her stepson, Mike Jr., and later with her daughter, Melodie.
- Air-Vent Passageway: "New Year's Evil"
- Apparently Unrelated Murders: In one story several men are murdered. Aside from having all attended the same school, there's no connection between the victims... until it's discovered that at a rowdy party they once all got drunk and gang-raped a girl. Since few people knew about the gang-rape, there wasn't anything to connect them to each other.
- Badass Longcoat: Ms. Tree's trademark trenchcoat.
- Battle Butler: Mr. Hand was officially employed Mike, Jr.'s tutor. However, Mr Hand is also a former SAS trooper and ex-mercenary. Michael hired him because he could double as Mike, Jr.'s bodyguard; a function he performed frequently throughout the series.
- Berserk Button: Mike Jr. has some pretty serious issues regarding homosexuals.
- Broken Pedestal: Dan Green worshiped his older brother Victor who went MIA during The Vietnam War. Dan ultimately undertook a mission to Vietnam attempting to locate his brother's body, only to discover that Victor was still alive and living as a crimelord.
- A Day in the Limelight: "Roger's Story" gave the spotlight (and some much needed character development) to Roger Freemont, one of Michael Tree's partners in the detective firm.
- "Day of the Week" Name: Michael Tree's maiden name was Friday.
- "Die Hard" on an X: "New Year's Evil" where a deranged gunman takes over the rooftop restaurant where Michael Tree is celebrating New Year's Eve. Michael happens to be in the ladies room at the time. Cue this trope.
- Erotic Dream: In the first issue of Ms. Tree Quarterly, Michael has a dream that her husband is alive, "Very alive." It's only shown for one panel, but three guesses what they're doing.
- Fatal Attractor: Michael has had terrible luck with boyfriends since the death of her husband. Most of them have turned out to be killers.
- Friend on the Force: Lt. Rafe Valer
- Gay Aesop: "Skeleton in the Closet" ends with one of these.
- Gender-Blender Name: Michael Tree
- Girls Behind Bars: "Prisoner in Cell Block Hell", complete with shower scene.
- Groin Attack: A favorite tactic of Ms. Tree's.
- Handbag of Hurt: Ms. Tree carries her pistol in her handbag, which makes it handy to swing at a enemy with unexpected force.
- A Handful for an Eye: In Ms. Tree #49, after being shot in the back, Michael blinds her attacker with a handful of dust in an attempt to get away.
- Hardboiled Detective: A rare female version.
- Have I Mentioned I Am Gay?: Justified because that character has turned celibate.
- Hollywood Satanism: In "The Devil's Punchbowl", Tree investigated a murdered girl who joined a satanic church and was found dead with a inverted pentagram on her body. She was predisposed to suspect the church of course, but her discussion with a freelance reporter who met up with her about this case showed her how many allegations about satanists causing trouble are often overblown. In the end, Tree discovered the girl's murderer was actually an insane Christian fanatic who was posing as a local anti-Satanist activist to cover up his crimes.
- Hook Hand: Dan Green, one of Michael's partners in her PI business, gets one after he loses his left hand in a bomb blast intended for Michael.
- I Call It "Vera": Dan nicknames his hook 'Nellie'.
- I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: "The Devil's Punchbowl"
- Inspector Javert: Captain Miller, who is constantly trying to put the eponymous heroine behind bars for her vigilante activities.
- Leatherman: Several appear in "Skeleton in the Closet", attempting to rough up Mike, Jr.
- Mama Bear:
- Do not threaten Michael's children.
- Or Dominique Muerta's daughter.
- Manly Gay:
- Bryan Hand, former SAS trooper and mercenary.
- Several more typical leather-clad examples appear in "Skeleton in the Closet".
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In "Horror Hotel", the murderous woman was either possessed by the spirit of her serial-killer great-grandfather, or had been suffering madness from having witnessed the double murder of her parents when she was little. Even Michael wonders.
- Mistaken for Gay: In "Skeletons in the Closet", an underground gay magazine 'outs' Michael and her secretary Effie as a lesbian couple, even though they're not.
- Most Common Superpower: When a killer forces Michael to strip, he's stunned to distraction because, "They're so big..." This gives her an opening to fight back with her favorite tactic.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The Muerta family? Just might be bad news.
- New Old Flame: Billy Powers in "Drop Dead Handsome".
- One of the Boys: This is the story of Michael Tree's youth.
- One Steve Limit: Blown to hell, obviously.
- Pillow Pistol: Michael makes a habit of doing this. Given the number of times someone has broken into her bedroom in the middle of the night planning to kill her, it seems a sensible precaution.
- Private Tutor: Michael hires Mr. Hand to act as a private tutor to her stepson Mike, Jr. A former SAS trooper is a Battle Butler who doubles as Mike, Jr.'s bodyguard.
- Punny Name:
- Ms.Tree. Mystery. Get it?
- Many of the early characters had these; a carry over from Collins' time as writer of the Dick Tracy strip.
- Really 17 Years Old: The porn actress in "Runaway II".
- Real Name as an Alias: In the "Prisoner in Cell Block Hell" arc, Michael Tree is booked into jail as 'Michelle Friday' to protect from possible reprisals while she is being held. Michelle is the feminized version of her actual given name and Friday is her maiden name.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Michael pratically makes a career out of this.
- Show Some Leg: Michael is known to use "the Nailer" technique from Modesty Blaise.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Michael's son and the Muerta girl. Subverted in that Michael, although of course doesn't care for this development, she considers it purely the kids' affair and does not try to keep them apart. Furthermore, she is Genre Savvy enough to know doing so would only encourage their love and notes with a smile to the girl's mother and crime boss that she should have just let the relationship run its course instead of packing her off to a foreign school to keep the kids separated.
- Traffic Warden: Michael originally worked as a parking attendant who met her future husband when she ticketed him. Furthermore, she was frustrated enough being relegated to that position that she accepted his offer to work for him instead.