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|First appearance||Astro City #1 (1995)|
|Created by||Kurt Busiek
|Team affiliations||Honor Guard|
|Notable aliases||Asa Martin, Big Red|
Energy field manipulation
Capable of interdimensional travel
Samaritan is a fictional character in the comic book series Astro City. Created by writer Kurt Busiek and artists Brent Anderson and Alex Ross, Samaritan is the premier superhero of the world, much in the vein of Superman and Captain Marvel. Despite his powers, however, the mind of the man called Samaritan is that of a weary and worn time-traveler with little time to himself and no future to return to.
Fictional character biography
In the dystopian future of the 35th century, a man is selected to go back in time to prevent a catastrophic event whose consequences ultimately ruined the future world. Launched into the timestream, he is caught up in empyrean fire, the strands of energy that make up time itself. Crash-landing near Astro City in late 1985, he spends the remainder of the year learning to master the empyrean forces which had suffused his body, and to alter it to change back to a more normal appearance (the empyrean forces had changed his hair to a bright shade of blue; he uses his powers to bleach the blue coloring away, rendering it white, and restores it when he appears as Samaritan.). Desperately working to control his powers, he barely succeeds in time to prevent the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, the event he has been sent to amend. Upon placing the Challenger on the ground, he is besieged by the media, who press him for details on himself. Briefly dismissing himself as just "a Good Samaritan", he departs immediately to better figure things out.
Eventually deciding that he could do a lot of good with his powers, he adds a cape to his outfit and takes the name "Samaritan", basing himself in Astro City. Additionally, he uses his Zyxometer, a living bio-computer shaped like a diamond with tentacles, to create a civilian identity for himself as "Asa Martin" (an anagram of "Samaritan"), a fact-checker for Current, a news magazine based in Astro City. With the quiet his job affords, Martin programs the Zyxometer to do his daily duties at Current, enabling Samaritan to simultaneously continue performing his heroics and protecting the people. Unfortunately, this causes Asa to appear to his colleagues as standoffish. His sense of duty has led to a similar problem as Samaritan, leading him to attempt to ameliorate it with what he considers non-essential activities. For example, he consents to attend dinners and banquets held in his honor, lest he seem arrogant by those he serves. The plaques and trophies given to him at these events end up in an alternate dimension, nicknamed "the Closet", that he can access.
The stress of his responsibilities has affected Samaritan as of late. With little time to himself, he often (though silently) grouses that the need to fly rapidly to various locations to stop crimes and prevent disasters leaves him little time to enjoy the sheer sensation of flight. He also frets over the fact that he cannot be omnipresent and deal with every problem that warrants his attention. His problems are further compounded when, on a time-traveling mission back to his home future, he discovers that saving the Challenger changed the timeline (as planned), turning the barren wastelands he came from into a prosperous near-utopia. However, this also results in a paradoxical future in which he never existed; thus, he has no home to which he could ever conceivably return.
Infidel is Samaritan's most powerful adversary. Like Samaritan, Infidel is imbued with empyrean fire, which manifests as green lightning energies and has turned his beard and eyes bright green (as opposed to Samaritan's blue energies and hair). However, whereas Samaritan is a science-based hero, Infidel's power is magically derived, using alchemical spells and astrological methods to mainfest his energies. He is also a brilliant scientist well versed in more traditional physical sciences, even to creating a device to examine (and perhaps manipulate) superstrings.
Infidel's beginnings are not in the far future, as are Samaritan's, but in the distant past. In seeking knowledge, a youth named Kiyu left his tribe in what is now modern Kenya, only to ultimately become the slave of an alchemist. He studied and improved upon his master's work and achieved immortality by being infused with empyrean fire. Then, after his master denounced his efforts as blasphemous, he killed both his master and attacking villagers and went off to study the secrets of the universe. His researches occasionally involved human experimentation, which resulted in constant harassment by outsiders over many centuries. To symbolize his refusal to accept dogma and superstitions as law, he assumed the name "Infidel." In order to escape all distractions, he used empyrean energies to travel into the far future, where humanity was extinct. There, he built an empire dedicated to increasing his knowledge, using kidnapped slave labor from the past. However, when Samaritan changed history by rescuing Challenger, Infidel saw his empire disappear, replaced by an unfamiliar society. Infidel was imprisoned as a madman, but he escaped to the past and escalated the Cuban Missile Crisis in order to restore his timeline and rebuild his empire. Samaritan, however, survived the changed timeline and forcefully reversed it.
Samaritan and Infidel continued their feud for years, with Infidel always seeking to restore his prior reality (or close approximations), and Samaritan always thwarting his efforts and reinstating the current reality. At one point, their dispute even erased reality altogether. They eventually settled into a truce when each man realized he could not permanently defeat the other. Infidel agreed to an exile outside of the timestream, and the two meet annually to have dinner and take stock of one another. (Each of them also secretly seeks a means to defeat or neutralize the other, so far without success.) At the end of each meeting, each invites the other to work with him. Although they always reply in the negative, Infidel believes that Samaritan is beginning to weaken in his resolve. Infidel, too, begins to feel doubt when Samaritan reintroduces him to a female scientist Infidel had once worked with during one of his plots, whose own advanced intellect appeals to him.
Infidel is almost Samaritan’s total inverse. He speaks in an articulate, polite and cultured manner. He is clearly versed in fine dining (serving squab and offering brandy and cigars at the end of their meal) and appears to be something of an oenophile. This makes Samaritan, by comparison, appear to be unsophisticated, even almost a bumpkin. (During one of his dinner sessions with Infidel, he arranged for them to meet in the prehistoric past and served McDonald's-styled fast food.) Where Samaritan believes in the equality of all peoples and wishes only to aid others with his abilities, Infidel has an archaic opinion of contemporary society, such as his belief that women are the inferiors of men, and believes that power such that he and Samaritan share should be used to shepherd humanity, not aid it. Samaritan uses his energies sparingly and only to assist others, while Infidel uses his constantly, not just for lightning-like attacks but to do simple tasks in his home. It has been shown that Samaritan, a modern man who owes his existence and powers to science, is uncomfortable with Infidel's magic-based ways, yet Infidel gently reminds his adversary that he is a guest in another's home. Despite their differences, Infidel appears to have respect for Samaritan and seems to truly wish they will join forces someday.
Samaritan has an ongoing relationship with Winged Victory, another troubled superhero based in Astro City. Their relationship, after years of mutual but un-acted upon attraction, began when they were set up on a date by other members of Honor Guard, who volunteered to handle all major disasters that night.
A beautiful young woman with a distinctive beauty mark on her left cheek, "Ms. A" – she's been referred to as being named possibly Allison or Andrea – is a thoroughly modern woman who had shown Infidel "disrespect". As such, she became embroiled in at least two great battles between him and Samaritan; during the latter she was kidnapped to an alternate reality and reduced to little more than a pet for Infidel before being rescued.
To continue his jaded amusements, Infidel created homunculi in the form of Ms. A (as evidenced by the beauty mark) Samaritan raises doubts about the morality of this, as the homunculi appear human. Infidel counters that Samaritan would be unlikely to have such concerns if they were "Robots built with science you understand.".
Powers and abilities
Due to exposure to the energies that make up the timestream, Samaritan is extremely powerful. He is capable of hypersonic flight, as evidenced in a flight from the United States to the Philippines that took 6.2 seconds. He can manipulate a field of energy, called an empyrean web, to carry and hold objects larger than him. Additionally, he has exhibited super strength, though it is not known whether it is due to muscular feats or his manipulation of energy fields. Lastly, he can travel into alternate dimensions unaided (and frequently does, to access "the Closet"). It is not known if he can travel through space-time on his own accord.
His earpiece is an extension of the Zyxometer, constantly feeding him updates on emergencies from various sources.
Kurt Busiek, however, provides the definitive version of Samaritan's derivation: "Samaritan's early influences are my childhood flying dreams, a book called Catapult: Harry and I Build a Siege Weapon by Jim Paul, a 'generic' superhero call[ed] (I think) Captain Cash from a Neal Adams-drawn magazine ad in comics form, Robert Mayer's Superfolks, Moses and Bright Lights Big City – and maybe a little from a pin-up Leonard Starr did in Superman #400. With all that roiling around underneath, it's probably more understandable why I flinch when people assume he's just Superman again. (His cape, by the way, which was credited to Captain Marvel, comes simply from looking for imagery associated with his name, and an attempt to make him look different from the other "flying strongmen" of comics history.)"[this quote needs a citation]
- Truitt, Ben (2013-06-03). "Busiek takes fans on another trip through 'Astro City'". USA Today. Retrieved 2013-11-27. "The Samaritan is the most famous superhero in the world of 'Astro City'."
- Bowman, Donna (2009-07-24). "Recommended first comics: Donna Bowman". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2013-11-27.