HIT COMICS #5 (1940)

The first time I saw this cover reproduced in Steranko's History of Comics, I had no idea who Lou Fine was, much less the character of the Red Bee! The depiction of the red-clad hero, chained, grappling with an enormous killer swordfish quickly began a lifelong love affair with the art of one of comics' great masters. This dynamic composition is essentially monochromatic, with red being the dominant element, while some pale yellows and a smidge of blue float, almost unnoticed within the image. Fine's exemplary draftsmanship is highlighted as the figures curl and writhe in front of the solid black background, fairly coiling around one another in an attempt to gain the upper hand. In the 40's Fine was one of a handful of artists (with Reed Crandall, Jack Kirby, Mac Raboy and a few others) to truly understand the art of cover composition. A quick look at his covers for Hit Comics, for example, will show a phenomenal eye for design, with a perfect understanding of the need for focus on the action. Fine almost always put figure groups in front of flat backgrounds of primary colors (usually red or yellow), where they charged out at the audience, forcing them to contend with these powerful pictures. Check out Hit #17 for the illustration which almost knocked this one off the list!