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MS. Tree is back -- Q&A with publisher Charles Ardai

Titan Comics, an imprint of mystery/thriller publisher Hard Case Crime recently released the second of six volumes reprinting the adventures of the comic book character Ms. Tree – a female detective whose exploits often tap into controversial subject matter, according to writer Max Allan Collins. The publisher released a novel featuring the character (Deadly Beloved) in 2007 before releasing the six volumes of comic reprints – the first two of which are from DC Comics (several publishers have handled the character according Wikipedia).

The first volume, “One Mean Mother”, came out last year while “Skeleton in the Closet” was released on Oct. 20. The next one, “The Cold Dish,” comes out next year.

Hard Cased editor Charles Ardai discussed the character’s appeal and relevance.

What in your estimation is the appeal of the character?

Ms. Tree has all the hardboiled appeal of a male private eye like Mike Hammer but with the added dimension of being a woman in what’s traditionally seen as a man’s profession. She was one of the first female private eyes, predating (by at least a little) characters like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone and Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski, and she’s the star of the longest-running series of private eye comics in history. Over the course of the run, Max Allan Collins’ scripts dealt with many topical issues that comic book characters largely hadn’t confronted before, such as gay rights, abortion, rape, child abuse, and the difficulty of juggling work and motherhood, all while serving up mean, tough crime stories with a kick-ass protagonist. What’s not to like?

How do you feel she sizes up by modern standards?

Any time you deal with topical issues, you’re going to bear the imprint of time in which you’re writing, and that’s certainly true here – a work dealing with gay rights or date rape in the 1980s or 90s will be different from one dealing with those or other hot-button issues today. But it’s fascinating to see how strongly these stories hold up decades later – though maybe also a little sad to see just how much those issues are still unresolved and controversial today. We would like to think progress has been made, and some has, but we have as much need for a strong female champion of equal rights today as we ever did.

Are new adventures coming?

That’s hard to say – for now we’re focused on collecting the full run of Ms. Tree’s classic adventures, and it’ll take us several years just to do that. But if readers clamor for more? As Sean Connery taught us, never say never again.

Will there be a movie or television show?

I hope so! It would be wonderful to see Ms. Tree on the big screen, or the small screen, for that matter. I know that over the years Max has had deals cooking with a number of possible partners (I think Lifetime was in the mix at one point), and scripts have been written. But whether cameras will ever start turning? No one knows. That’s in the hand of the Hollywood gods. But I’ll say this: Ms. Tree would be a hell of a role for some actress to tackle.

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