I never grew out of Superheroes, but I did grow into detective fiction. I’m not sure when it was (maybe middle school?), but mysteries and detective stories were my favorite literary genre. And while I’ve always been all in on comics, there was never an overwhelming amount of traditional detective/mystery/private eye comics.
Oh, there were a few that pulled me in, and I enjoyed them all. I particularly remember Mike W. Barr’s Maze Agency, Jonni Thunder and those Jason Bard back-up stories in (appropriately) Detective Comics. And the long running Ms. Tree was also always a favorite.
This character, and series, were created by two folks who would become favorites of mine. Max Allan Collins is a Mystery Writers of America 2017 Grand Master ‘Edgar’ winner, although I knew him better as the Dick Tracy writer and the guy behind the Nate Heller novels. Terry Beatty is a fantastic artist and today many folks know him as the inker of the Eisner Award-Winning Batman and Robin Adventures series and the World’s Finest graphic novel.
Ms. Tree is a hard-boiled detective, with a pop-culture heritage that includes Spillane’s Mike Hammer books and Dragnet, who always seems to step into the thick of it. She’s tough as nails in that classic sense, but every adventure focuses on real world issues (domestic sexual assault, fringe groups, exploitation, etc.)
Titan Comics‘ Hard Case Crime imprint has collected this long running series in several stylish volumes. I heard Titan’s Andrew Sumner interview author Collins about this new series at San Diego Comic-Con a couple of years ago.
At the panel, they explained that the series wouldn’t be collected chronologically and would be reproduced as oversized paperback size, a little smaller than traditional comics. I was a bit unsure of those decisions then, but I am a believer now.
Terry Beatty’s streamlined style shines in this format. There’s crisp simplicity that works very well in this slightly-smaller-than-a-regular-comic size. And you can see his style mature over time too.
This line is organized in a smart way, collecting different eras of Ms. Tree’s adventures together. The lack of chronological printing isn’t an issue in the least. In fact, these handsome volumes don’t have numbers, so fans can arrange them on their bookshelves however they please. It’s a clever marketing/publishing decision.
That About Covers It
Hard Case has continued the tradition set forth by DC comics of having other artists contribute covers to the series. Beatty created stunning covers to most of the Ms. Tree comics, but when the creators brought the property to DC, new artists contributed covers. I’m guessing this was another brilliant idea by that visionary/troublemaker, Mike Gold.
These Hard Case collections kicked off the first volume with a Denys Cowan cover. Subsequent volumes feature new, stunning Claudia Caranfa painted covers.
In the meantime, Collins has another Nate Heller novel out this February. It will be entitled The Big Bundle , and it might be the second-to-last one, in fact. Beatty is always hard at work on the Rex Morgan, MD comic strip and does a fantastic job with it.