'A time-traveler sent back to 1986 to prevent the ecologically-hellish future he was born into from coming about. His time-trip suffused him with "empyrean fire," giving him enormous physical power as well as the ability to project an "empyrean web."'
-- Astro City Rocket Online Visitor's Guide
His exploits range from stopping natural disasters to facing bizarre occurrences such as chronal rifts, and even rescuing cats from trees. As with most other heroes, he has also battled numerous villains and evil-doers, including Pyramid forces, Dr. Saturday, The Living Nightmare. As part of the global superhero community, Samaritan has been a member of the elite superhero team Honor Guard since at least 1987, and is linked romantically to Winged Victory.
The hero who would become Samaritan was born in the 35th Century, a time ravaged by environmental disaster and radiation. Earth was so damaged that mankind had only one generation before it would become extinct. Faced with this eventuality, the scientists of that era hatched a risky plan: to send someone back in time to stop the one event that would trigger the Earth’s decline and eventual demise. After numerous tests, Samaritan was chosen for this mission. Two years of historical training and preparation followed, and then Samaritan said goodbye to his family and was sent backwards through time.
Samaritan’s journey did not go as planned: he was engulfed by the time-stream and suffused with Empyrean Fire, the primal energy of both time and space. When he arrived in late 1985, he discovered that the Empyrean Fire had granted him extraordinary powers. After weeks spent desperately trying to control his new body and its abilities, Samaritan evidently fulfilled his mission on January 28, 1986 when he prevented the space shuttle Challenger from breaking apart, thereby preserving the lives of the seven astronauts aboard. After this heroic deed, Samaritan decided to continue using his powers to avert disasters and battle a variety of menaces, all in the hopes of averting any future as dark and troubled as his own. He also developed a civilian identity, Asa Martin, and became a fact-checker for the Current, Astro City's weekly news and lifestyle magazine.
In 1996, his Honor Guard teammates lured Samaritan into a "blind date" with Winged Victory. ("Dinner At Eight.") Despite some initial tension arising from their differences, the night ended on a positive note. Since then, they have become a steady couple.
At some point in his career, Samaritan returned to the 35th Century after a battle with a time lord called Eterneon. He discovered a lush and healthy incarnation of the future. This validated that his mission and actions were successful. Unfortunately, by preventing the disaster that led to his Earth timeline, he had also inadvertently wiped his family from existence. How Samaritan can continue to exist when his parents never did, is a conundrum of sorts that even baffles himself.
Over the years, he fought his arch-enemy the Infidel on countless occasions. During the last of these, the Infidel, in a moment of rash anger, actually destroyed all space-time. Given their unique link to the Empyream Fire, these two sole survivors faced each other on an existence level "beneath" reality called the Plains of Geth. There, they struck a deal-- The Infidel would cease his plots against humanity, and in return Samaritan would leave him be in his other-dimensional palace. Working together, they then restored space-time to its prior state. To monitor each other's status, the arranged a dinner meeting once a year. Samaritan's hope is that he can eventually turn the Infidel to the side of good. ("The Eagle and the Mountain")
When Telseth's doorway appeared over Astro City, Samaritan was the second hero on hand to investigate, arriving to catch the first, American Chibi when she ricocheted off the structure. The younger hero was all aflutter to be working together. Samaritan witnessed Telseth's arrival on Earth and even offered to be his guide to the planet, but the alien refused. ("Through Open Doors (Part One)")
He spared a few minutes in his busy schedule to have a chat with Martha Sullivan to make sure everything was all right following her and her friends' recent run-in with the Majordomo. He made the open offer of Honor Guard assistance if they ever needed it. ("On the Sidelines")
Samaritan has been infused with the Empyrean Fire, which has given him a number of superhuman powers, including:
Empyrean Web: Samaritan can project a web-like energy field from his hands, which he can manipulate for a variety of effects. He has used the Empyrean Web to restrain enemies, stop a tidal wave, and prevent buildings from collapsing. When the space shuttle Challenger’s external fuel tank exploded, Samaritan surrounded the vessel in an Empyrean Web to protect the crew compartment and keep the shuttle from breaking apart. Relatedly, Samaritan applies Empyrean energy to his hair to bleach it into the white hair of his Asa Martin identity.
Hypersonic Flight: Samaritan can fly at incredible speeds, allowing him to reach any spot on the globe in seconds or leave Earth’s atmosphere and enter space.
Superhuman Strength: Samaritan is incredibly strong, although the upper limits of his strength are unknown. He has been observed stopping a runaway bus, destroying a giant robot with a single punch, and raising a sunken ship from the oceans off the Florida coast.
Superhuman Durability: Samaritan is impervious to gunfire and can survive in the vacuum of space for at least short periods of time.
“Shifting”: By allowing his mind to go blank and all tension to leave his body, Samaritan can take a “sideways step” into a pocket dimension he calls “the Closet.” There, Samaritan stores the many awards he has received throughout his distinguished career. Whether this is an ability granted by the Empyrean Fire or gained elsewhere (such as through his association with Honor Guard) is unknown.
Samaritan enjoyed some historical training before being sent back in time. He has revealed that he originally planned to stop the Challenger disaster by “infiltrating society as an undercover agent,” which suggests some sort of covert training. He also has a strong working knowledge of modern computers and networks and can repair his futuristic zyxometer. He appears to be a sound tactician with a thorough knowledge of the world’s various superhuman threats.
However, Samaritan is not omnipotent despite his vast power: He still requires sleep, is susceptible to injury, and can be affected by energy draining powers such as those possessed by The Living Nightmare.
Samaritan possesses a 35th century “organic computer” known as the Zyxometer, which resembles a large diamond with tentacles. The device has several functions, including:
- News Monitor: The zyxometer simultaneously monitors over 75 news sources, including radio and television broadcasts, police band traffic, and newswires. The computer tracks all crises, ranking them by urgency.
- Emergency Alert Transmitter: The zyxometer can warn Samaritan of emergencies; by observing the pulse patterns of the transmitter, Samaritan can determine the location and rough nature of the emergency.
- Fact Checker: Samaritan programs the zyxometer to perform all of his duties as a fact checker at the Current, allowing the hero to respond to emergencies on an almost constant basis and still retain his job. In this role, the zyxometer can check references and citations, generate reports, and even make phone calls.
- Remote Updating: Even when Samaritan is away from the organic computer, the zyxometer continues to route alerts, updates and intercepted transmissions to him, which he receives via a zyxometer terminal implanted in his earlobe.
- At the conclusion of his public debut, he described himself as "a good Samaritan" to the press. Apparently, the name stuck. "Asa Martin," an anagram for Samaritan, is not his actual birth name but instead simply an alias invented as part of his creation of a private identity. A link of sorts for tethering his humanity to this destined time period.
- Samaritan has a complex relationship with his arch-enemy, Infidel. While Samaritan is uncomfortable with Infidel's view of women and his use of magic, the hero has repeatedly tried to convince the villain to use his powers to help humankind.
- In his civilian identity, Asa Martin, he appears hardworking and busy, but also somewhat aloof because of the time demands of his superheroic activities.
- Noting his prowess and determined virtues, the alien spy known as Mr. Bridwell felt that distraction would be the best tactic to neutralize Samaritan's impact during a global scale invasion by his species.
- According to Kurt Busiek, Samaritan was inspired and influenced by a number of sources, including: Comic books characters such as Superman, Captain Marvel, and Captain Cash; books ranging from Catapult: Harry and I Build a Siege Weapon by Jim Paul to Robert Mayer's Superfolks (which Samaritan's blue hair is a nod to); Busiek's own childhood dreams of flying; and even Bright Lights Big City and Moses.
- In public, Samaritan is a gracious and noble hero. However, beneath the surface, the hero seems consumed by a desire to avert every disaster and tragedy. He is a classic "workaholic," spending nearly every waking moment speeding around the globe to rescue anyone in danger or battle evil. But this has had a toll on him: he fully realizes that he is unable to relax or lead a normal life, and at night he secretly dreams of flying just for the sheer joy of it.
Samaritan likely has other powers in addition to those listed above, including:
Super Speed: Asa Martin can seemingly change into Samaritan in an instant.
Superhuman Senses: Samaritan appears to possess at least superhuman hearing (he seemingly overheard Winged Victory whispering to herself as they parted after their first date); his other senses may be heightened as well.