The Clock was the first masked hero introduced in the fledgling comic book industry. He was a “super detective” who fought the underworld. The Clock first struck in Funny Pages 6 (November 1936) in a story that ran in two page installments through Funny Pages 9 (March 1937). At the time of his debut in November 1936 The Clock shared the newsstands with reprint titles such as Famous Funnies 28, Popular Comics 10, King Comics 8, Tip-Top Comics 7, The Funnies 2 and original titles such as More Fun 15, New Comics 10 and Wow 4.
The Clock appeared briefly in books produced by the short-lived Comic Magazine Co. before running in the Quality titles of Feature Funnies and Crack Comics. Things were fairly lonely in the Comic Magazine Co. titles in that The Clock was surrounded primarily by mediocre two page humor, gag and adventure strips. The neighborhood improved considerably when he moved over to the Quality titles. In Feature Funnies, which initially featured many newspaper reprints, he was one of the only original characters. Eventually he was joined in that title by William Eisner’s “Black X” (starting with issue 13), the Eisner/Fine character, “The Dollman” (starting with issue 27), as well as “Charlie Chan” (starting with issue 23). When he shifted over to the sister title of Crack Comics his neighbors included Lou Fine’s “Black Condor” (with whom he alternated cover feature appearances through issue 19), Paul Gustavson’s “Alias the Spider” (a knock-off of Gustavson’s Centaur creation, “The Arrow”), “Madam Fatal”, “The Red Torpedo” and, in issue 27, “Captain Triumph”.
The first complete story of The Clock ran in Funny Picture Stories 1 (also November 1936) on which he was the cover feature, again another first for a masked character. (Despite its name F.P.S. 1 was the first comic dedicated soley to the adventure/detective theme. This title is incredibly significant, yet underrated.) It is clear that the story in Funny Pages was to be his debut. Firstly, the house ad for Funny Pages 6 that appears in Funny Picture Stories 1 has “Oct.-Nov.” on the cover unlike the published version. Secondly, in the Funny Pages story the police have no idea who The Clock is- “Perhaps I am the Big Bad Wolf. Then again maybe I am Little Red Riding Hood”- as opposed to the knowledge of the police in F.P.S. 1.
The Clock was Brian O’Brien as revealed in Feature Funnies 8 (May 1938). He was a “society dude” as called by any crook who had the misfortune of unmasking him. He wore a black silk mask and derby and, for the first few stories, carried a cane. He was a suave, brash and reckless crimefighter whose boxing skills honed in college had to serve him well as he took on all impossible odds. He was a “Robin Hood”-like figure who, after rescuing a kidnapped victim or recovering stolen goods belonging to a miser, would distribute these monies to the poor rather than returning them. This type of behavior did not ingratiate him to the local police and Capt. Kane. Most stories in the first years followed the same formula- crime committed, The Clock follows an underling to the hide-out as himself or in his disguise as “Snowy Winters”, engages in a vicious fight (“Slam Bradley”-like before Bradley’s debut four months later), almost loses, wraps up the crooks and sends a note to Capt. Kane.
The Clock was the creation of George Brenner who penned his adventures for eight years- a more than respectable run for a golden-age character. Brenner was in the Eisner-Iger shop and had contributed some strips to Wow (Henle). In addition to The Clock, Brenner became an editor at Quality and created, among other features, “Bozo the Robot”.
The Clock appeared in Funny Pages 6 - 11 (the story begun in issues 10 and 11 being unfinished when the title was picked up by Ultem Publishers in September 1937), Funny Picture Stories 1 and 2, and Detective Picture Stories 2 and 5 (not in issue 1 although advertised on the cover). All these books were published by Comic Magazine Co. in the period of November 1936 to June 1937. This company was owned by DC defectors William Cook (former managing editor) and John Mahon (former business manager). After selling out to I.W. Ullman and Frank Temerson (who published these books for a short time- September 1937 to January 1938- as Ultem Publishers before the line was taken over by Joe Hardie and Centaur Publications in March 1938), Mahon and Cook continued their association with Everett Arnold, who would be the driving force behind Quality Publications, by putting Arnold in touch with individuals associated with their former publications. (Note The Clock stories that appeared in the Centaur publication of Keen Detective Funnies 8 and 9 (July and August 1938) are reprints of the stories from Funny Picture Stories 1 and 2. Also note that the first four pages of the Clock story in Feature Funnies 7 are exactly the same as the story in Funny Picture Stories 2 with the text and plot partially reworked.)
Accordingly, after a short hiatus, the adventures of the Clock continued in the third issue (December 1937) of the first Quality publication, Feature Funnies (an underrated title which featured a mix of reprint and original material, including early work by Bill Eisner). The Clock appeared through Feature Comics 31 (April 1940) when he switched over as the cover and lead feature in Crack Comics 1 (May 1940).
The Clock’s initial episodes displayed a certain ruthlessness. For instance, in his inagurual story that ran in Funny Pages he captured bank robbers who, during their escape, had killed a bystander. After subduing the gang with his fists, he leaves them all for the police except the crook who had performed the killing. The Clock delivers this individual to the victim’s brother’s house so not to take the chance that “some shyster” would help him escape his just desserts. Or if a crook was reluctant to give him the information that he wished, The Clock would take that individual to his hide-out which was outfitted with all sorts of torture equipment. In one story (Feature Comics 26 November 1939) he convinces one crook to “cooperate” after the following exchange: “See the rat in that cage. Well he hasn’t eaten in over a week-- If I were to tie you down on your back, and place a metal bowl over the rat on your abdomen- then apply heat to the bowl- do you know what would happen? It would be so uncomfortable under there for the rat, that he’d gnaw his way out- and it wouldn’t be through the metal bowl...”.
The Clock was not modest. When a crime kingpin asks why The Clock has fallen into his trap so easily, he replies that he did so in order to “have the opportunity of slapping” the thug around before he turns him over to the police. Although incredibly reckless, The Clock always managed to extricate himself from impossible situations. On more than one occassion he used the spring-loaded knob from his cane to his advantage. The Clock had several other handy talents. In one episode (Feature Comics 24 September 1939) a thug belts him over the head from behind. Luckily for the Clock he was wearing his sponge rubber derby. Manipulating a few vertebrae he paralyzes the man. Turning the man over to the police, The Clock suggests they obtain a chiropracter for him. In another (Feature Comics 26 November 1939) The Clock hypnotizes a crook to confess to the crimes he has committed.
In Crack 1 the Clock recruits down-and-out Pug Brady to journey into the “shadows where danger stalks the two enemies of evil”. These two would fight their way through a variety of tough crooks such as “The Jay Bird”, “The Crab” and Scrag Scadone. Crack 17 proudly featured The Clock on the cover with two revolvers smoking with the caption, “Starring The Clock- oldest and best comic book character”.
But as the series wound to a close in the fall of 1944, The Clock lost his hard edge and took on a girl sidekick named “Butch”. In Crack 21 (February 1942) The Clock finally pushed his luck too far and was shot trying to corral some crooks. He is able to escape. He stumbles into an apartment and falls under the care of Butch who is an orphan. She nurses him back to health and joins him in the series. Butch spoke with the mandatory Brooklyn accent and one-line wisecracks. Her comic relief escapades began to predominate so that the series lost its hard edge and The Clock became secondary in his own strip. Time finally ran out for The Clock in Crack Comics 35. (Be heartened Clock fans. In the revival of the Centaur characters in The Protectors by Malibu, Brian O’Brien appears as President of the United States!)
© Jon Berk, 1993, 1994 and 2009, All Rights Reserved.