Thursday, January 12, 2012

Best Zeppelin Story Ever

Zeppelins are pretty cool looking vehicles, rating an 8.7 on the Bogart/Karloff scale. But, though lighter-than-air ships do get used by heroes every now and then (Doc Savage often traveled into adventure aboard the airship Amberjack), adventure fiction seems to most often lean towards using zeppelins as vehicles/weapons for the bad guys.

I suppose this is because the Germans used them during World War I to bomb England. Since then, villains have often used them as a part of their nefarious schemes—during both wartime and peacetime.

For instance, in the 1971 film Zeppelin, the Germans of World War I used a zeppelin to sneak a commando force into England, with the intent of stealing the original copy of the Magna Carta. (The idea here was that this would be a severe blow to English morale.) Sadly for the Germans, there’s a double agent on board.

Zeppelin isn’t a great movie, but it is fun and—well—it has a zeppelin in it. So it’s worth watching. Michael York plays the protagonist; he’s a British soldier of mixed Scottish and German descent. He fakes a defection to the Germans to spy on them. But he ends up on the zeppelin raid before he can send a warning to the Allies, forcing him to improvise a way to stop the Germans before it’s too late. The movie’s climax alone—featuring an air battle between the zeppelin and a squadron of British fighters—is really, really cool despite a few anachronisms that WWI aviation buffs will probably notice.

But Michael York isn’t the only hero who has had to take on a zeppelin single-handedly.  In fact, though York handles himself quite well in Zeppelin, he doesn’t hold a candle to that ace combat pilot named Mickey Mouse.

 In a 1932 sequence from Flody Gottfredson’s superb comic strip, Mickey has gotten a job as a mail pilot. But it’s a bad time to take the job—mail planes have been mysteriously disappearing and no one can figure out how or why.

Mickey manages to find out—though only after he himself has been captured by air pirates using a zeppelin as a base. But after a fortuitous escape, Mickey launches a single-handed attack against the pirate vessel.

I’ve talked about Gottfredson’s work once before. His Mickey strip, which seamlessly combined slapstick humor and talking animals with a real sense of adventure and danger, was brilliant. Mickey’s battle against the zeppelin is just one example of this—it’s funny and exciting at the same time, leading us to accept a world of sentient animals as “real.” It’s the culmination of a story arc that ran nearly four months, slowing building up suspense before skillfully explaining everything and ending with a magnificent battle sequence.

I like Zeppelin and recommend it. But it you want a truly magnificent adventure story featuring a zeppelin, look no father than Mickey Mouse. Best zeppelin story ever.

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