by Doc Quantum and Christine Nightstar
The Clock’s story began three years earlier in 1983. By his late twenties, Lester Colt was already a retired special operations soldier who had returned to the United States after serving his last tour of duty in Germany. The years after the world was freed from Nazi domination in 1973 by the Freedom Fighters and a group of super-heroes from two other parallel worlds were peaceful, for the most part. But the Allied forces had kept a close eye on Germany and Japan while the world was in the process of rebuilding. Lester was a highly trained warrior without a war, so he decided to go back to college on the G.I. bill, and he chose Columbia University in New York City. He went back to school in the fall of 1983.
A few months later, a chance meeting with Dr. Darrel Dane after a guest lecture by the famous scientist at Columbia had led to a friendship with the man whom the world knew as the legendary Doll Man of the Freedom Fighters. Dane was semi-retired along with the rest of the Freedom Fighters, and he had reason to be. As he explained to Lester, after the death of his first wife Martha, Dane had married a woman he had met on a parallel Earth — one of the same parallel worlds from which the Justice League had come to help liberate the world from Nazi control. This woman was, in fact, the younger counterpart of Martha Roberts, Dane’s late wife. The two wanted nothing more than to settle into a quiet life and start a family of their own, now that the world was safe once more.
Lester had always had an inquisitive mind, so he was drawn by the experiments that Darrel Dane routinely conducted. It was one of those experiments, after all, that had granted Dane the power to shrink himself to become the Doll Man back in 1939. But when Martha Dane became pregnant in early 1984, Darrel Dane decided that his days as the Doll Man were numbered.
It was then that Dane approached Lester with a remarkable proposition. Would Lester like to carry on for him as the new Doll Man? Lester was intrigued, of course, but he had the same question that Darrel had: with the world at peace, what need was there for a Doll Man? Dane quickly explained that, before he joined the Freedom Fighters, most of his enemies were common crooks, a breed that had never died out. In fact, in the postwar depression that followed throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, crime was once again on the rise. Even if soldiers were no longer needed, heroes still were. So Lester agreed; maybe he could be useful once again, after all.
He wondered at the time what had made Dane approach him, of all people, with his plan. It was only later on that he realized that Darrel Dane had been following the path of his career since Lester was in his teens and had been recruited into a special training program. Dane and a few of his fellow Freedom Fighters had been special advisors to that secret program, dubbed Project Hero.
The experiments began almost immediately after their agreement. It took a few weeks, but Lester’s body chemistry soon began to accept the modified version of Dane’s old shrinking formula. The results were unexpected. While Lester was indeed able to duplicate Doll Man’s shrinking power and ability to control his density, Lester was also able to shrink even further to microscopic sizes, though only for seconds at a time. Added to that was the ability to shrink other objects within a certain range, as long as he was in contact with them. These objects would remain shrunk until Lester grew them back to normal size again. Lester could also fire telekinetic blasts from his hands, which seemed to be a variant of Dane’s later ability to create protective force-fields.
But Lester wasn’t interested in calling himself Doll Man and preferred not to advertise his shrinking abilities at all, if he could help it. Instead, he decided on a handle for him that seemed a bit more fitting for a two-fisted crime-fighter working from the shadows: the Clock. The original man to use that name had been President Brian O’Brien, of course, the postwar president whose three terms in office had overseen the nation’s rebuilding. Dane assured Lester that O’Brien would be honored that a new crime-fighter would call himself the Clock. With Doll Man as his mentor, Lester became a secret super-hero-in-training.
Meanwhile, Lester Colt had been continuing his studies, attending college while working toward a mechanical engineering degree. In his free time, he and his friend Irving, a mechanical genius, had taken apart an Italian sports car they’d bought from a police auction for cheap. Taking the V16 motor out of it, they built a motorcycle around it and dubbed it the Longbow. The top speed of the Longbow topped out at three hundred and fifty miles per hour, from what treadmill tests said. Darrel Dane had helped him with some safety devices for it as well. But even with the safety devices that Dane had provided, Lester wasn’t crazy enough to open it up all the way. He knew he couldn’t survive a crash if it did ever wipe out. But he did have the hottest wheels on campus.
Having no fear, Lester had quite a reputation for target practice, with fast reflexes and an aptitude with firearms. The toys he had to play with as the Clock included a stun-gun filled with things from acid to explosives. He also had a stylized boomerang-type weapon, a grapple, and a utility belt filled with tools of all kinds. After having just learned how to make other things beside himself change size as well, he was able to fit a few heavier items in the pouches, including a laser torch and various power-saws.
The mask he wore as the Clock was a Kevlar-Nomex blend mask with a gas mask and breathing system. Dane had designed it to help him survive in hostile environments. The goggles set into the mask were multifunctional as well, giving him the ability to see on varied spectrums of light.
Lester Colt and Darrel Dane had planned for the Clock to make his official debut in the summer of 1985, during the summer break, when the unthinkable occurred. The Crisis on Infinite Earths struck, devastating the world with a series of shocks, from psychological manipulation to chronal disruptions to attacks by shadow demons. Dane became Doll Man once more and rejoined the Freedom Fighters to help save not only the world and the universe, but the universes of four other worlds besides. And Lester rejoined the military.
To be more precise, Lester Colt rejoined the secret military program that had been set up to build a new generation of Freedom Fighters. Dubbed Project Hero by the military bigwigs, it had provided special operations training to handpicked young men and women. This training went above and beyond the type of military training most soldiers received to provide tactical hand-to-hand combat training most useful in solo vigilante actions and as part of a team. These individuals were also equipped with special devices that would simulate various super-powers, effectively making them super-heroes. The world had recognized, after all, the value of costumed heroes after three teams of super-heroes freed the world from Nazi tyranny. Lester had been recruited as a teenager and had been one of the program’s first graduates before he went on to serve his tours of duty in Germany. Unlike almost all the rest, however, Lester had since independently decided to use his training to actually become a super-hero rather than settle into civilian life like his fellow trainees.
Now that the world was in peril again, this time by other-dimensional forces, the current team of Project Hero trainees was being placed into the field to assist the Freedom Fighters and other-dimensional heroes against the evil facing their world. Lester was one of a few graduates of the program to return and provide assistance to the young would-be heroes.
Returning to the Project as an adult was a bit of a wake-up call. When he was recruited as a teenager, the idea of becoming a real, live super-hero was his dream. And he still intended to become a crime-fighter as the Clock as soon as the Crisis was over. But when he arrived to find a group of young people barely out of their teens wearing gaudy-looking matching costumes and using new code-names, he felt a bit silly. As for Lester, he was given a Project Hero costume, gloves with built-in weapons called stingers, and the name of the Crimson Hornet. It reminded him of the Red Bee, a valiant but somewhat ridiculous hero from the 1940s, and he hated every moment he had to wear that costume. But Lester decided to just focus on doing his job as one of the squad leaders.
But Project Hero was completely unprepared for the swarms of shadow demons that attacked anyone they considered to be a threat. In the team’s first and only battle, a staggering seventeen Project Hero agents were killed out of the original twenty-four, leaving only seven alive, and five of those injured.
Lester was among the unlucky ones who were seemingly killed. But although it seemed impossible, that was not the end for Lester Colt.
The last memory Lester had was being disintegrated by pitch-black arms embracing him from behind as he saved the life of a young Project Hero graduate named Charlene Swanson. He would later wonder if she made it out alive, or if his sacrifice had been for nothing. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Feature: Young Allies: Choices, Chapter 2: Heroic Offspring.]
And then, quite unexpectedly, he awoke someplace else.
He found himself hovering within a strange place glowing with yellow-white light. It was a long while that he floated there peacefully before he became aware of another presence approaching him in this misty realm of light.
“Am I… dead?” he asked.
“Yes,” said a female voice. “Or, at least, you were. But as the timelines fluctuated, allowing all manner of realities to exist simultaneously, I have plucked you from your time and place on Earth. I believe you are among the few that are able to make a difference.”
“Can you put me back where I was?” said Lester. “We — me and the other Project Hero graduates — were getting slaughtered by those… those things. Maybe I can make a difference there.”
“I am afraid that battle has already been lost, but the Crisis has been won,” she said with a voice that cracked, sounding very old. “We need you now. A new Axis threat has arisen to threaten the whole world.”
“What about the Freedom Fighters?” Lester asked.
“They were trapped on the wrong side of the barrier,” she replied. “And when they return, their power will be lessened for a long time. You will be the key to their return.”
“How will I get back?” Lester asked. “I’m dead!”
“I am bringing you back to life for a very special reason,” she replied. “But your old life must remain dead so your new one can begin.”
“This is impossible,” Lester stated.
“The most fulfilling tasks often seem that way until accomplished.”
“I can’t go.”
“You must go.”
“But what about my life?” pleaded Lester.
“You will start a new life,” she countered.
“What will I do?”
“You will help a world survive.”
“How?” asked Lester. “How will I get there?”
“You will find a way,” said the voice. “Use your Project Hero training and the abilities Darrel Dane granted to you.”
“Who are you?”
“I am a spirit of America,” she replied. “In my prime they called me USA, the Spirit of Old Glory. And you are Lester Colt, the Clock. The name fits you, now that you are living on borrowed time.”
“I will need my gear.”
“It will be waiting for you.”
“I’ll need my bike.”
“It’s with your gear.”
“I need to know the score.”
“You will find someone to help you after you arrive. Don’t be too obvious, young warrior, for you are being returned to Axis-controlled territory.”
“California? You’ve got to be kidding,” said Lester.
“This is no joke,” said USA. “A new Imperial Japan, backed by the Nazis, has a foothold on America itself in the state of California.”
“Oh, well,” said Lester. “Always wanted to learn to surf.”
The Spirit of Old Glory was quiet at that comment for a moment before she said, “You will do fine, warrior.”
“Why don’t you join me?” he said. “I’ve heard of you — you were one of the Freedom Fighters once. We’ll fight the Japs together.”
“I cannot,” replied USA, sadness in her voice. “For in my mortal form I am but an old woman, and while I am in the form of a spirit, all I can do is find those that can help save America and recruit them.”
“You will be a hero again. I can feel it.”
“I fear that cannot happen until after the Axis threat in America has been taken away.”
The conversation ended, and Lester Colt awoke to find himself in the subbasement of a building in San Francisco in early 1986, several months after his death during the Crisis. He had never discovered who had owned the building or had transferred all his equipment there, but he had his suspicions.
Lester spent the next few weeks trying to blend in with the frightened populace, who were kept under strict regulations and curfews, but his tall, athletic frame made him stand out in a crowd. He learned to walk with a slouch, affecting a browbeaten, cowed manner like many of those around him who had learned the hard way not to defy the Occupation.
After learning of the existence of the California Resistance, Lester made several attempts to track them down, only to fall into a sting operation conducted by Axis sympathizers. He was captured along with several others and sent to a prisoner of war camp, but he used his powers to surreptitiously escape before he could be processed, only to return to the P.O.W. camp later that night in secret in the hopes of freeing the prisoners. Strangely enough, none of those prisoners had any desire to escape.
It had been destiny, he realized, when he realized that some of those prisoners of war were the very leaders of the California Resistance that he had meant to find, including Jerry Noble, alias the Yankee Eagle. With help from the outside, many of the efforts of the California Resistance were being directed from within that P.O.W. camp. Noble was able to verify his story with his contact in the Freedom Fighters, and Lester vowed to aid them in any way he could.
Together, Lester and Jerry planned a campaign of terror against the Axis forces, using the P.O.W. camp as their base of operations and the rallying cry of the Clock at the forefront.
At the appointed hour, a little over two months ago, the Clock struck for the first time. And Lester Colt had never looked back.