It's been twenty years since the debut of "Astro City," a comic which explored what Superman-analogue Samaritan dreamed of, and it's apt that Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson celebrate that anniversary by revisiting its themes in "Astro City" #26 for "In Dreams 2015." Since that original story, Samaritan has come a long way; he still forever protects the rest of the world, but he is in a good relationship with Winged Victory and is no longer completely alone. While Samaritan still dreams of flying, something dark invades his dreams, and that lack of release within his subconscious starts to bleed into his everyday life with bad consequences.
I love the idea of seeing Samaritan's dreams return in "Astro City" #26, doubly so now that they've gone darker, which feels as much a reflection of comics today as it does a reaction to that overall grim nature. While the setup is great, Busiek needs to provide a reason for this before the comic loses some of its steam. It's the evil-force portion of the issue that doesn't work here, both in terms of the problem being a creepy alien force and in the way it so easily spotted and solved. To be fair, it's not the whole solution or the thrust of this issue, and it's those other parts that do work.
When Samaritan was created, he was handling so many things simultaneously that he was a man who had to tally up the minutes and seconds that he actually got to fly when he wasn't fighting a bad guy. "Astro City" #26 feels like Busiek's attempt to recognize the utter lack of a life that poor Samaritan has and, perhaps more importantly, the extreme difficultly of living on a planet that is so dependent on a single hero (even while others exist). That's the part that's the most interesting in this issue, as the world has to deal with Samaritan taking some time off and the ultimate toll that it's been taking on him. We got a glimpse of that in Samaritan and Winged Victory's first date and, in many ways, this feels like the third chapter in the saga of Samaritan's life over the years.
Anderson and Alex Sinclair provide nice visuals that bring some of the little aspects of Busiek's script to life. The shadow coming over Samaritan's face as he looks at Doc Robotnik's latest creation, the hard lines around his eyes, the steely blue glint of energy as he prepares his attack -- all of these elements sell not only what happens on the very next page, but also Samaritan's mental state in a way that the dialogue and narration alone can't quite convey. Likewise, the regret on his face on the page after that, when he retreats to the stratosphere, is telling not only of his understanding of how he's screwed up but also his overall mental state.
"Astro City" #26 is a pleasant way to celebrate the series' twentieth anniversary and, as I said before, I want a follow-up down the line to see if Samaritan was able to take what he learned here and really apply it to his life. Surprise bad-guy portion aside (and one that admittedly isn't the bigger solution), this is a solid exploration of what it means to be the world's greatest hero, for good or for ill.