The Clock

Created by George Brenner
the clock

NAME + ALIASES:
Brian O'Brien

FIRST APPEARANCE:
Original: Funny Pages vol.1 #6 & Funny Picture Stories #1 (November 1936).
In Quality Comics:
Feature Funnies #3 (December 1937)

APPEARANCES:
Comics Magazine Co.:

Funny Pages v.1 #6–11 (November 1936–June 1937)

Funny Picture Stories #1–2 (November 1936– December 1936)

Detective Picture Stories #2, 5 (Jan.–Apr. 1937)

Centaur, reprint:

Keen Detective Funnies #8 (July 1938)

Quality Comics:

Feature Funnies #3–20 (December 1937–May 1939), becomes…

Feature Comics #21-31 (June 1939–April 1940)

Crack Comics #1-35 (May 1940–Autumn 1944)

SEE ALSO:

Toonopedia: The Clock

Chris Roberson Sheds "Masks" For "The Shadow" (27 May 2013)

 

+ History

The Clock bears the distinction of having been the first masked hero created for a comic book. There are precedents in other media, but in comics, the Clock’s only contemporary was Dr. Occult, who’d been introduced a year before in National’s New Fun #6. Dr. Occult was not masked, but possessed mystical abilities.

The Clock debuted in Funny Pages vol. 1 #6 and Funny Picture Stories #1 (Nov. 1936), but both comics featured different stories. The stories in Funny Pages (“The Clock Strikes”) appear to have been penned first; the art is rougher, and each issue only printed two pages of the Clock. The last story (#11, June 1937) ended with no resolution. The two tales in Funny Picture Stories (“Alias, the Clock”) featured more pages, supporting characters, and a more well-rounded setting. These titles were published by William Cook and John Mahon for Comics Magazine Co., Inc. Busy Arnold helped these men on the printing side, and became good friends with George Brenner. When the Cook-Mahon enterprise went under, Arnold picked up the Clock for his own new company, Comic Favorites, Inc. (a.k.a. Quality).


[ Read the full profile in the Quality Companion ]

Pre-Quality (Comics Magazine Co.)

The Clock began his adventures as an anonymous masked man in tuxedo and bow tie. His first case involved foiling a bank robbery.(Funny Pages v.1 #6) With two-fisted gumption, he made quick work of the gang. (#7) After calling the police he left his calling card which read, “The Clock Struck at…” with the symbol of a clock beneath. (#8)The Clock didn’t turn in all of the gang members. He took “Killer” Katz for a different kind of justice, turning Katz over to his victim’s brother. The next day, the newspaper told the story—an angry mob had killed Katz for his crimes. The Clock, meanwhile, relaxed at home. (#9) In his next case he foiled a diamond robbery (#10), but was in turn caught by the cops. (#11) The resolution of this story remained unknown, as Comics Magazine ceased operations.

[ … Q. C. ]

In Quality Comics

Masked villains from Crack #6, 7, and 9 (1940).

Not much changed when the Clock moved to Quality Comics in Feature Funnies #3. He encountered his first masked opponent, the Owl (Feature Funnies #7), and had rigged his suit with tear gas. (#12) Finally, his secret identity—he was playboy and “ace criminologist” Brian O’Brien—was revealed during the case of a murdered mayor. Here he established a relationship with Captain Kane, who spoke to the Clock through a screened door that masked O’Brien’s face. (#14) Brenner did not invent the motif of playboy-turned adventurer. It was a pulp fiction convention seen in heroes like the Spider, and more contemporaneously with radio’s Green Hornet.

[ … Q. C. ]

Time for Sidekicks

pug + clock
Pug and the Clock. From Crack Comics #3 (July 1940).
Art by George Brenner.
The sassy, brassy Butch. From Crack #30 (1943). Artist uncertain.

In 1940 O’Brien met Pat “Pug” Brady, a down-on-his-luck former heavyweight boxing champ and all-American fullback who tried to steal Brian’s watch. Pug had survived a murder trial (a case of self defense), but he’d fallen on hard times. Brady followed the Clock and freed him when he was captured, but wound up killing the Clock’s attacker. O’Brien helped him cover up the death, then disguised himself as the dead man and infiltrated his gang. The gang’s boss, Big Shot, wore a white hood over his head and was unmasked as the mayor himself. Afterwards, O’Brien noticed that he and Pug looked rather alike. Pug owed everything to the Clock, and so pledged his loyalty to him and his crime fighting endeavors. (Crack #1) When Pug went with the Clock into the field he wore a simpler white face mask of his own.

[ … Q. C. ]

Butch, Sidekick #2

By late 1941, the industry’s most popular heroes like Batman and Captain America had kid sidekicks. George Brenner jumped on this bandwagon. In Crack #21, he dumped Pug without explanation and introduced a new kid sidekick. On the waterfront, the Clock had done battle with the Mouse, and was riddled with bullets. The hero managed to stumble into a nearby home where he was taken in by a young girl named Butch. Over the course of months, she nursed him to health. When it finally came time to leave, Brian found it not so easy to leave Butch behind. She was fearless: a trash talking, red-headed street urchin who weaseled her way into O’Brien’s life. When she took him in, she’d mistaken the Clock for a gangster, and she fantasized about becoming his “moll.” Her crush on him intensified when the Clock then saved her from death at the hands of a mobster. (#21)

[ … Q. C. ]

Modern References

The Clock has never made any DC Comics appearances, per se. He has, however, turned up in fictional 1940s journal entries written by the vigilante known as the Shade. The Shade refers once to a misreporting of the Clock’s death circa 1944 (when the character’s series ended). A man named Hubert Mason reported having killed the Clock, believing that the hero was an agent of Satan. (Starman v.2 #19) But the Shade later remarked that the Clock was still alive, operating out of Chicago as “a barely adequate protector of the innocent.” (#78) Perhaps it was O’Brian’s body double, poor Pug, who bit the dust while disguised as the Clock instead.

In Malibu Comics—The Protectors

In 1992, Malibu Comics launched a modern revival of Golden Age Centaur Comics heroes. Malibu made the character their own and created something totally new, based on the original. In The Protectors, Brian O’Brien had been the Clock in the 1940s, then he went into the army, and was ultimately elected President of the United States. All the characters in this title were killed in Protectors #20 (May 1994). “The Clock” never appeared on Malibu’s covers.

Masks (Dynamite Comics)

O'Brien's new guise, as leader of the Justice Party.
From Masks #6 (2013); art by Dennis Calero.
Big Shot (aka Mayor Kozer).
From Crack Comics #1 (1940); art by George Brenner.

In Masks, Dynamite teams history's earliest super heroes, most of whom were originally invented for pulp fiction and the radio.

In 1938, New York state is taken over by the Justice Party, a front for a totalitarian organization bent on solving society's problems with an iron hand. The party quickly implemented sweeping new powers and created a Black Legion police force. Tony Quinn, who succeeded O'Brien's as District Attorney recalled that Brian had found the law too limiting, which is why he chose to operate outside of it as the Clock. (Masks #3) Quinn soon lost his sight and also became a masked adventurer, the Black Bat.

When the heroes closed in on the mastermind behind the Justice Party, this master killed his underling, the mayor, with poison gas issued from a wall clock. (#4) The heroes eventually tracked down the master to the Empire State Building, where Brian O'Brien had surrounded himself with clock symbols. He now wore all white (#5) and boasted to them about how easy it was to assume control of government. (#6) He intended to take over the whole country. When the Shadow engaged O'Brien, his face was revealed to Quinn, who recognized him immediately. (#7)

O'Brien's appearance in this series borrows some things from the Clock's Quality Comics adventures. His rather KKK-like white hood is exactly like that of his white-hooded foe, Big Shot, from Crack Comics #1 (1940). In that story, the hooded figure turned out to be the city mayor.

Writer Chris Roberson talked about the Clock's inclusion at CBR. Also according to Roberson, this entire story was inspired by a pulp-era Spider tale by Norvell Page. The Black Legion was inspired by the actual historical Black Legion, a splinter group of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1930s. (The Black Legion was also the name of a group fought by Uncle Sam.)

Notes

Brenner’s friendship with Busy Arnold was referenced in Crack Comics #5, where the Clock refers to his pal Pug as “Busy.”

The Clock was featured on the covers of Feature #25, 28 and 29, until the Doll Man began to grow in popularity. In Crack Comics, he alternated cover appearances with Black Condor, nabbing all odd issues through #19.

The Clock was the inspiration for the character of the same name in John Arcudi’s 2002 Elseworlds series, JLA: Destiny.

+ Powers

The Clock had no super-powers but wasn’t afraid to use his fists, or a gun, or a “paralyzing” gun. He once also used a cane with a spring-loaded tip which could fire the knob as a projectile. His hat was made of sponge rubber to absorb impact. Among his other talents: ventriloquism, a “neuroparalysis” pinch, a “hypnotic stare” from his “piercing eyes,” chemistry, and impersonation.