THE CLOCK, ISSUE ONE

(Matt Hawkins/Colleen Doran; 32 pages; TOP COW PRODUCTIONS/IMAGE COMICS, 2020)

Writer Matt Hawkins’ new series, THE CLOCK, continues his string of hard science fiction books. Like the others (STAIRWAY, WILDFIRE and THINK TANK among them), this story is based on hard science facts covering genetics, world populations and weaponized diseases, rather than the speculative realms of time travel, robot uprisings and the like. THE CLOCK in the book’s title is the World Population Clock, with the over-reaching plot of the story being delivered in the last page of the first issue. On a school field trip to the Smithsonian Museum, a teacher is explaining that the clock keeps track of the ever-increasing overpopulation of the world and how some fear that it is becoming a serious problem with predictions of dire consequences if something isn’t done to slow the growth. The final panel is a close up of a young man asking, “Then why’s it going backwards?”

THE CLOCK, page 19 (written by MATT HAWKINS, art by COLLEEN DORAN and BRYAN VALENZA)

The answer is sobering: A new, virulent form of cancer has reached epidemic proportions in an amazingly short period of time, with no apparent cause and no cure on the horizon. In that span, hundreds of millions of healthy people have contracted and succumbed to various forms of this aggressive new cancer. The first issue of this limited series starts with an ambassador and his son, Jack (no last name that I could find), in Nigeria, where pockets of the populace seem to be immune to this quick-metastasizing strain of the disease. With a caravan full of food and much-needed supplies in tow, Jack, a leading cancer research scientist, is hoping to discover what physical or environmental factors are protecting these people from becoming infected. In trade for the supplies, the tribal leaders agree to various blood tests and environmental studies. As the samples are gathered and the people celebrate their unexpected windfall, the encampment is attacked by a rebel militia. And then things get scary!

THE CLOCK, page 20 (written by MATT HAWKINS, art by COLLEEN DORAN and BRYAN VALENZA)

Jack’s wife, Evelyn, dies, another victim of the viral outbreak. In a devastating scene at the cemetery, Jack’s nine year old daughter says, “At least Mommy won’t be lonely, Daddy. Lots of people are going to Heaven today.” Colleen Doran’s full page splash shows Jack and daughter Kimmie at the center of no fewer than nineteen funerals. As Jack tries to juggle the intense feelings of loss and guilt, the suddenness of becoming a single father and the strain of trying to find a cure for the disease that took his wife, he is called before a Senate committee to explain the massive expenses he has accrued on various trips in search of, not only causation but, ANY possible cure for what has very quickly become a worldwide epidemic. Grilled by one of the Senate’s bulldogs, Jack stuns the committee with a proclamation that, unabated, the virus will cause the deaths of half of the world’s population in a year’s time. Leaving the hearing, Jack is, seemingly, bumped into by a commuter in a hurry. However, picking himself up from the floor, Jack notices a piece of paper with his name on it. The paper holds one cryptic sentence, “Your wife was murdered.” Suddenly, the research scientist is faced with the realization that the cancer for which he is seeking a cure has become… weaponized! As the clock is, literally, running down for the human race, can Jack find the cure and the government or governments behind the conspiracy?

THE CLOCK, page 21 (written by MATT HAWKINS, art by COLLEEN DORAN and BRYAN VALENZA)

Doran’s artwork (ably assisted by colorist Bryan Valenza and Troy Peteri’s unobtrusive lettering), like Hawkins script, is not overbearing and allows the reader to digest the story, while maintaining an artistic flow that keeps those readers involved. While a lot of comic book stories feature an inevitable “happy ending,” THE CLOCK seems to be moving in another direction, with a plot that may end up as another cautionary tale, highlighting the truth that most of the world’s governments could not care less for their constituents as long as the leaders have everything they could possibly want or need. A harsh truth that most of us learn far too late. While this first issue of THE CLOCK is not infused with a lot of action, it does promise an exciting ride. Bring on issue two!


THE DESCARTES HIGHLANDS

(Eric Gamalinda; 300 pages; AKASHIC BOOKS; 2014)

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This story had me so confused for the first few chapters, I almost gave up on it; written in three distinct voices (and styles) and covering (at least) two different time periods on at least three continents (and an island nation or two), it took a while to get my head around what was happening, when it was happening and to whom. At some point, I noticed that the chapter titles… really weren’t; each character’s story had its own title; that’s when I went back to the beginning and figured out exactly what the heck was going on. Sometimes I can be a little slow on the uptake, but once I get on board with a concept, I can generally roll along rather nicely.

Author Eric Gamalinda (photo credit: ROME JORGE)

Author Eric Gamalinda (photo credit: ROME JORGE)

The story follows the paths of two young men, born just hours apart in neighboring huts in a poor village in the Philippines. Both men are unaware of the existence of the other or the reasons for their adoptions; their father, an American named Andrew Breszky, told their mothers (who didn’t know that Breszky was the other child’s father) that he was going to sell the babies for adoption and send the money back to the village to save their families the embarrassment of, not only being unwed mothers, but also giving birth to an American child. One of the boys was adopted by a woman in New York, the other by a couple from the south of France. The title of the story comes from the region of the moon where Apollo 16 landed in 1972, the year the boys were born; the mother in New York would give her adopted son letters from his father, with the return address listed as “Mister Breszky, the Descartes Highlands, the Moon.” Interspersed with his sons’ stories, the story of political prisoner Andrew Breszky unfolds, allowing the reader insight into the psyches of the two men, desperately seeking a long lost clue to who they are and why they act as they do. THE DESCARTES HIGHLANDS is a psychologically taut drama that unravels right in front of you, much like the relationships and mental stability of the two sons. Filipino author Eric Gamalinda spins a tale of lies and loneliness, of longing for the truth and for an acceptance that always seems to be at arm’s length; the acceptance is there – from parents, from girlfriends and lovers – but the pair can never quite trust their own feelings… to believe that what is being offered to them freely doesn’t come with some sort of string attached. Yeah… the story can be a bit confusing and, occasionally, mind-numbing in its intricacies but, if you stick with it, following the ups and downs, the in and outs… I guarantee that you will be richly rewarded. Gamalinda’s storytelling and bleak imagery is disturbingly realistic, his dialogue frighteningly authentic. It’s time that you put on your thinking caps and delve into THE DESCARTES HIGHLANDS.