Christopher Priest, the singularly voiced comics writer and editor, is a man of two speeds. He can get straight to the point, hitting you immediately with a cannonball to the gut, or he can play the long game. It’s these latter stories, these grand, luxuriously paced storylines which take months or years to elapse like unfolding origami, which are most characteristic of his work. He’s a man who comes up frequently in discussions of comic book industry milestones, both figuratively and literally. In addition to being one of the first Black writers to break into mainstream comics, Priest was also there to help codify the story bible for Milestone Media during their founding period.

Often challenging, invitationally controversial and deeply, darkly funny, Priest laughs heartily through the grimaces of comics’ bleakest characters, or icons having their darkest thoughts. Trying to predict exactly where a Priest story will go before it finishes is an exercise in futility. When you think you’ve got him figured out, it all comes together in a different, inventive shape. If you’re interested in getting better acquainted with his work, we’ve provided a mix here of longer and shorter reads to get to know his comics on each of his operating levels. At least, the ones we know of so far.

Steel (1996)

There are so many books we could have included on this list. Priest’s runs on The Ray, Justice League Task Force and the recent Black Adam are all worthy of acknowledgment. But if you’re beginning your Introduction to Christopher Priest curriculum, then you’ve got to start with Steelthe first ongoing title for any DC character by a Black writer.

From his first issue on the book (that’s issue #34, if you’re keeping score), Priest immediately makes his personality known as a writer. Under Priest, Steel isn’t your typical story of a hard-working Black man in a white man’s world. It’s a portrait of a man plagued by his own demons, working hard to maintain a connection with his loved ones while attempting to redeem the mistakes he’s made in his past…usually by making entirely new ones. Beginning with Steel, Priest tells the world that he has more to share as a writer than his own skin color. And for over thirty years now, he’s never stopped letting us know.

Batman: The Hill (2000)

Perhaps even more relevant today than when it was written, Batman: The Hill is a parable of how our institutions fail those they are ostensibly designed to support and protect. It’s here, with artist Shawn Martinbrough, that Priest exposes us to a borough of Gotham City where Batman’s justice has yet to penetrate and can find no purchase.

The Hill challenges us to think about the way we consider crime and the conditions which foster it. It’s an exposure of the Sisyphean war Batman wages, so long as the causes of injustice go untreated in favor of the immediate symptoms. This year, Shawn Martinbrough brings us back to the Hill with a brand-new Red Hood miniseries… Talk about people who know the shortcomings of Batman’s mission all too well.

Superman: Lost (2023)

Whether intentionally or not, Priest’s latest contribution to the DC library feels like a series in conversation with recent developments in the life of Jonathan Kent (a character who does not appear in this book). In Brian Michael Bendis’s Superman, Jon was held prisoner for years, hopelessly far from home, returning mere moments after he left, now grown. It’s a trauma we’ve seen him begin to process only recently, years after it happened. But how would that kind of distance, that hopeless, long-term divorce from everything you’ve known, only to be thrust back into it with nothing having changed but yourself, really affect a man? Moreover, how might that affect Superman?

That’s the premise this series begins with, as a shellshocked Superman finds his way home after a twenty-year exile in space, returned to the moment he was cast away by a wormhole. As Lois attempts to tease back the heart of the man she loves in the present, each issue unfolds to show us the dreadful, isolating scope of exactly what Superman has been through to bring him to this point…and, that with love on your side, no trauma is insurmountable.

Deathstroke (2016)

Slade Wilson is not a character who deserves redemption. He’s not a badass. He’s certainly not an anti-hero. He’s a killer, a manipulator, an abuser and an awful man in every metric a man can be measured. How do you write a comic about a character like that? In 2016, Priest’s answer was a simple one: zero compromise.

Deathstroke was a book about an evil man, entirely undeserving of love, who craves it like a drug. A man who would lie, cheat and kill however and whoever he could to earn it—and then, inevitably, disappoint those he had deceived into placing their faith in him by revealing his true colors. The brilliance of Priest’s Deathstroke, though, is that he doesn’t merely do this to the other characters in the book. It works, time and again, on the reader as well. Until the shoe drops and he reminds you what a scorpion does.

Batman Annual #13, “Faces” (1989)

One of the greatest stories ever told about Jason Todd’s tenure as Robin was written while he was dead. Still deep in mourning over his lost sidekick, and with Tim Drake yet to enter his life, Batman is forced to gouge a healing wound when an old case opens from his partnership with his second Robin: a caper bringing Batman in confrontation with Two-Face, appropriately told across two different eras. In one, we see Jason’s assets as Batman’s partner and what made him a unique and worthy part of the legacy, cruelly cut down before he could be given a real chance. And in the present, we see how Batman has changed in the time since, and that no matter how deep the tragedy, time moves relentlessly forward. All you can do is keep going.

This rare gem of an issue, written by Priest under the name of James Owsley, can currently be found in the collection Batman: The Caped Crusader Vol. 2, available digitally on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE for Ultra subscribers.

Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about games, movies, TV, comics and superhero history for Follow him on Bluesky at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.

NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Alex Jaffe and do not necessarily reflect those of DC or Warner Bros. Discovery, nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.