The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Eight.

§ May 15th, 2023 § Filed under final countdown § 13 Comments

Doc Stearn…Mr. Monster (Eclipse 1985-1987)

…Whoops, entered it on my master list of ’80s vote-getters under “Mr. Monster” instead of the full real name, as shown above, which is why I didn’t get to it ’til the Ms. Sorry, person who voted for this comic and was probably wondering why I skipped it!

Anyway, Michael T. Gilbert based this wacky monster-non-approving hero on a relatively straight-laced and public domain Golden Age comics character by the same name, and he and William Messner-Loebs and, of course, the amazing lettering of Ken Bruzenak, Other creators would hop on board, such as Alan Moore scripting an adventure in #3 (pictured), but it was mostly Gilbert who was the master of ceremonies here.

There were a number of spin-offs, including Mr. Monster’s Super Duper Specials reprinting Golden Age material with new wraparound comics by Gilbert. All good, but the two “Hi-Shock Schlock!” issues are indispensable.

I’m not going to try to list every Mr. Monster spin-off here, as there were plenty, running well into the 2010s, from its original home at Eclipse, to Image Comics, to Tundra, to Dark Horse and more. There was even a Penthouse Comix publication that had a Mr. Monster story…which, despite being called “Penthouse Max,” I think it was…if not general audiences, at least non-porn. Wasn’t like I was going to sell anything called “Penthouse” to kids, regardless.

While most of the spin-offs post that initial Eclipse series were more in the wild comedic over-the-top mode, the most notable follow-up may have been the eight part mini-series from Dark Horse. It was in black and white, a sharp contrast to Doc’s usual colorful adventures, and it was a more-or-less serious retelling of the character’s origins. Quite good, beautifully done, but at the time I felt like the character’s humorous momentum was curtailed by this somber aside and it never really got back on course.

I mean, clearly there was still plenty of funny Mr. Monster to be had, and I bought and enjoyed pretty much all of it, but I never really got that same…entertaining, “anything goes” anarchic feeling that I had in that original 10-issue run. Don’t get me wrong, that origin mini is great, but if you read the funny Mr. Monster first and decide you like it, maybe read the rest of the output before tacking that backstory.
Ms. Tree (Eclipse/Aardvark-Vanaheim/Renegade Press 1983-1989)

Okay, how many times have I told this story? I was buying the Ms. Tree comics, an ongoing saga about a lady detective and the tangled web her violent tactics can weave, for quite some time before getting my job working at a comic book store. Early at that job, someone asked for the Ms. Tree back issues. I replied, “sure, let me get the Ms. Trees for you…wait, hold on. ‘Ms. Tree.’ ‘Mystery!’ I get it!”

Because, you know, I never had occasion to say the name aloud before. I only ever just saw it as a name. “Ms. Michael Tree.” Also, I was a dumb teenager. Even by “dumb teenager” standards.

But anyway, Ms. Tree started out in Eclipse Magazine #1 in 1981, with the first chapter of a serialized story by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty. It ran there for a few issues before graduating into its own 50-issue-long ongoing series…Ms. Tree’s Thrilling Detective Stories for hte first three issues, before shorting to Ms. Tree for the rest of its run through three publishers (noted above). Early issues of the run (including the Eclipse Magazine stories) were reprinted in the ’80s in a three-issue book series called Files of Ms. Tree, but currently the UK publisher Titan is releasing new reprint volumes (the newest one, Heroine Withdrawal, coming this October).

During that initial run, there were a couple of fun spin-offs, including a 3-D issue that features the cleverly named new story “Death, Danger and Diamonds” (because…3 Ds, you see) and a reprint of a story from AV in 3D (the Aardvark-Vanaheim 3D special). The new story here is reprinted in Files of Ms. Tree volume 3 in 2-D black and white, if you’d rather read it that way. In addition, there’s a crossover mini-series with E-Man‘s Michael Mauser called The P.I.s which is worth a look.

After that main run wraps up, the saga continues over at DC Comics as Ms. Tree Quarterly and Ms. Tree Special. Those end in the early-mid 1990s and I think that’s more or less been it since then for new Tree stories. At least in comics, as the character did appear in a prose novel by Collins, Deadly Beloved, released in 2007. Which I’m pretty sure I have around here but haven’t got around to reading yet. (There are a handful of other prose short stories with Ms. Tree, two in the Files collections, and then a couple that appeared in mystery anthologies in the early ’90s.

Speaking of reading…like I said above, I did read all of the comics. It’s a fun, occasionally violent, occasionally brutal, occasionally…Shakespearean? (Romeo and Juliet specifically, when Tree’s son and the daughter of a mob boss fall in love). Plenty of melodrama to be had, and Tree’s tactics have serious consequences for her (turns out you if you solve all your problems with violence, folks are gonna look a bit askance at you). Also, the cover pictured here is maybe the best cover of the series…really lets you know what you’re in for.

Of special note is #50 from Renegade, which includes a flexidisc with “The Theme from Ms. Tree” as performed by Cruisin’ (Collins on keyboards, if memory serves). There’s a CD (long out of print, I’m assuming) that has the track on there, too.
Neat Stuff (Fantagraphics 1985-1989)

For whatever reason, though I was on the lookout for new alternative material around the mid-1980s, and I was buying Fantagraphics label-mates like Love and Rockets and Lloyd Llewellyn, among others, I didn’t really catch onto Peter Bagge’s Neat Stuff until, well, way into its run. Like, “the last couple of issues” late.

I’ve no excuse. I mean, I saw them on the shelves. I knew it existed. I just never got around to picking it up, and now that I’m in my strange “let’s fill holes in my comic collection” phase of acquiring original publications of material I mostly have otherwise, maybe this is a run I can eventually acquire.

I must have liked those two issues of Neat Stuff enough to pick up his new comic-book-sized series, Hate, when it started in 1990. The new series focused on the l life of Buddy Bradley, the approaching-adulthood slacker son of the Bradley family that had been a prominent component of the preceding Neat Stuff. At any rate, I was totally in the Bagge (hold for applause) for these comics, so when Fantagraphics collected the older Bradleys material, as well as other work from those magazines, into four trade paperbacks, I bought them all.

I’m not 100% certain how to best describe Neat Stuff. Wild, occasionally vulgar, humor with unpleasant characters in upsetting situations that will shame you into laughing, and it’s terrific. There is a slipcased hardcover set The Complete Neat Stuff currently available if you don’t want to be a weirdo like me who wants to get the all the originals to see this material in its initial context.

• • •

That’s enough of that…will be on to part nine of this overview of the one-voters from this survey soon. Thanks for reading as always, pals, and I’ll see you back here soon.

13 Responses to “The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Eight.”

  • John Platt says:

    Great comics!

  • Oliver says:

    To this day, I still mix up Megaton Man with Mr. Monster. Never bought either title back in the day, but I’m working on rectifying that.

  • Chris Gumprich says:

    Can I change my answers again?

  • ExistentialMan says:

    I loved those Mr. Monster’s Super Duper Specials! The Hi-Shock Schlock golden age reprint stories were glorious.

  • Sean Mageean says:

    Michael T. Gilbert’s Mr. Monster was another ’80s favorite of mine from Eclipse Comics. Issue 2 had the best cover–Mr. Monster and the Little Rascals drawn by Dave Stevens! I recently tracked down the Airboy & Mr. Monster Special one-shot comic, which bears the cover blurb: “A hoax! A dream! An imaginary story!”–it was a fun read! Michael T. Gilbert should do a new Mr. Monster one-shot or mini-series–maybe bring in a bunch of other public domain Golden Age characters as well.

    I never really got into Ms. Tree –I always thought the art looked weird (and not in a cool, Basil Wolverton way)…and it was also years before I copped on to her name being a pun.

    I did buy Neat Stuff back in the day, but I haven’t thought about it in decades…I kinda think it was so of its time that I probably wouldn’t get as much out of it now as my teenage self once did.

  • Rob S. says:

    Oliver, until I saw your comment, I don’t think I ever realized how often I confused Mr. Monster with Megaton Man. But I’ve been doing it all my life.

  • Mike: I was lucky enough to write some Nightlife articles (Chicago, Louisville, and so forth) for Penthouse and they paid a dollar a word.

    This was almost the case with the Penthouse Max Comix. (I think it was X.) It could very well have been G-rated, as they even ran a few T.H.U.D.E.R. Agents stories.

    Though I only knew the editor from Penthouse, I vaguely remember the comics end of it, because in the 90s I got to travel to NYC a lot. They were somehow paid by the panel but with strict rules as to not crowding the page, but they were well paying rates.

    The comics magazine was short-lived, the editor did drugs and jumped from a window of the building, so articles can be found about all of that.

    I asked Gahan Wilson how much he made for the art he did each month for Playboy. A lot, obviously. I miss the guy, he loved talking to fans and even doing impromptu sketches.

  • Sean Mageean says:


    I believe the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents story ran in third (and final)issue of the short-lived Omni Comix (which was published by Penthouse but ran sci-fi themed stories). Unfortunately, that story ends on a cliff-hanger and I don’t think part two ever got published. However, I would consider that the last “true” T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents story because it was approved by John Carbonaro, and, being published in 1995, is still set pretty close to the Cold War era. That story also introduced a new Menthor, who was African American, and an adult daughter of Davy Jones (U.N.D.E.R.S.E.A. Agent) who becomes a love interest for the team’s speedster, Lightning. The art was also good–Paul Gulacy drew it.

    That’s a cool story about Gahan Wilson.

  • Oliver says:

    “[Penthouse] comics magazine was short-lived, the editor did drugs and jumped from a window of the building, so articles can be found about all of that.”

    R.I.P George Caragonne, whose sad, short life is the stuff of a comicbook in its own right.

  • Wayne Allen Sallee says:

    Oliver: thanks for posting a link. I only have use of one finger for typing, so I’m terrible with links.

    Sean: I completely forgot about OMNI, which Ellen Datlow was involved with. I never wrote sci-fi, but she edited a ton of print anthologies. She told me that it was looked over because of the word comic, and OMNI was the same magazine-size. She always though the mistake was not just putting one illustrated story in each OMNI comic.

    Innovation did well because of their Anne Rice properties, but they gave a shot at Illustrated Masques, based on the print anthologies. I’m in that, there were only two issues, but it was collected and still being reprinted overseas.

    Ellen thought if Omni did the comic format or what I wrote earlier to have made more sense. Innovation also did a Lost in Space comic written by Bill Mumy and it was pretty decent, but all the titles stopped somewhat abruptly.

  • Wayne Allen Sallee says:

    Sean: sorry, had a spasm. That T.H.U.N.D.E. R. Agents (great title for someone with cerebral palsy to type out) sounded great. I was going to say that it was suggested that some of the Omni work go to Innovaton.

    I have a photo of me sitting next to Gahan on a panel but it was still the era of Larry King glasses and by hair was just deciding it it was going to fall out.

  • Sean Mageean says:


    That’s interesting, re: the T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents unpublished Omni Comix work possibly going to Innovation. I’ve also seen some Paris Cullins unpublished T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents artwork that a comic art dealer has for sale…maybe that was going to be in the next Omni Comix issue…if the title hadn’t gone defunct. As I’ve ranted about before, DC did a dreadful T-Agents relaunch during the New 52 era…but missed the point, as all the original characters were killed off except NoMan. The IDW relaunch was somewhat better…but they did an odd thing in deciding that Kitten and Iron Maiden were sisters. Personally, I’d love somebody to do a T-Agents that harks back to the humor of Wally Wood’s original iteration–with art by Jerry Ordway, Mark Schultz or someone of a similar caliber who can approximate Wally Wood, Al Williamson, or Reed Crandall’s amazing artwork–set during the Cold War era, but with a tongue in cheek aspect. The older I get, the more I dislike that thanks to Alan Moore and Frank Miller, comics went “grim and gritty”…give me an Arnold Drake Doom Patrol or Bob Haney Brave & the Bold comic from the Silver or Bronze Age instead…a fun read!

    Cool that you hung out with Gahan…he was a true original!

  • Snark Shark says:

    “the editor did drugs and jumped from a window of the building,”



    I remember them having multiple comics that just stopped suddenly.