Commander Zeppelin is a relatively recent superhero and dirigible hobbyist from the Southern California area. Though typically quite mild-mannered and avoidant, he was only driven to become a superhero through vendetta towards local vandals.
Frank Sondheim was born to a middle-class family in uptown Palo Alto. He was the younger of the two Sondheim brothers, his sibling, Matt, being much more athletic than Frank, as well as quite defensive and controlling towards him. Though he did well enough in school, Frank wasn't much for personal exploration, preferring to simply tag along with his brother's friends instead of really making his own. Still, even at a young age, Frank's favorite hobby was Pen and Paper RPGs, namely of the steampunk variety.
Frank was quite happy, living a fairly sheltered life at home. Soon, however, he felt the call to put his skills to better use in the greater academic environment, and was able to get into California Poly Technic university. Despite some of the initial apprehensions he had towards being away from his family, he soon grew to get used to working on his own. After he had found other people at the university who shared his interest in Steampunk fiction, he was inspired to start up a student-run club. Said club had faced some intense scrutiny from other student associations, and even the faculty, since day one. For all they knew, it was just a more specific rehash of the simulation gaming club featured on campus; why have two clubs for the same thing?
Frank could have easily stopped his work on dirigibles at any time and gotten a well-paying job designing more contemporary items, but he was all too enamored by his craft. Year after year, Frank would bring in new balloons and cars, some pedaled, others fitted with steam engines, and later even some powered with gasoline engines. All the while, Frank's mannerisms and dress further developed into a more classical style, exchanging his half-grown goatee and t-shirts for vests, suspenders, and intricately waxed mustaches. With his mannerisms getting more eccentric, it was clear that the fame was getting to his head a bit. Frank was consistently well-liked against the general attendees of the convention, but not without making specific enemies among others.
Dan Deane was one of these enemies. A fellow engineer all the way from Berkeley, Dan was convinced that Frank had only been able to claim his fame for his unusual approach to engineering, as opposed to any real advancement in mechanical application or construction. With that in mind, Dan had repeatedly attempted to beat Frank in his balloon races at his expo, only for him to lose to his rival each time. Dan did not take his losses well, and Frank wasn't exactly a quiet winner, either. Finally, Dan was driven to action.
On the week preceding the 3rd Southern California Steampunk Expo, Dan had been informed that Frank's next project was perhaps one of his most ambitious of all: A gasoline jet-powered balloon, which would be capable of reaching up to 90 miles per hour in the air. Short of building some sort of giant plane, there would be no feasible way for Dan to use materials or parts to create something like that. Instead, Dan gave some local vandals information about Frank's project, stating they could get a top-quality engine from his garage. The night before the expo, Dan's henchmen set out.
Frank, having always considered Dan as friendly competition, certainly did not think to lock his garage that night. The vandals had no difficulty getting in, but they faced a considerable rut when they tried to remove the engine. Weighing in at a hefty 1100 pounds, the thieves were not able to get the engine out. Instead, they did the next best thing - wreck the vehicle around it and drag it out!
There were a few reports early that morning of a shrill wail coming from the general vicinity of the garages reserved for Frank's dirigibles. Indeed, where he had once had a magnificent, high-speed flying machine prepared, there was now nothing left but a pile of wooden and metal debris. All that was left of use was a note that the vandals - most likely on behalf of Dan - had left for Sondheim: "All it takes to pop a balloon is one pin." Shamed by his inability to bring a working vehicle to his convention, he called the entire event off, locked up the rest of his vehicles, and drove back to Palo Alto.
Frank spent sleepless nights back home. Having had his old bedroom refurbished into storage space, he had to sleep in the house's basement. As if his shelter situation wasn't enough, the destruction of his balloon had caused serious trauma to him. All he could hear in the silence was Dan's note: one pin to pop the balloon; over and over. Both his parents attempted to console him, telling him he could move on and apply for an engineering position, or even work at his father's company.
But Frank wouldn't take the pity. Soon, he began to notice his parent's concern, and came to a conclusion: this whole time, he had been a pushover. He had never stood up for himself when he was young, and while he had had some success in his conventions, all it had taken to dissuade him was a single setback. Even his parents, with their concerned jabbering at him, reinforced his conclusion. But now, Frank had realized his error, and now he was prepared to correct it.
Call to arms
As requested, Frank had gotten access to his first airship. However, instead of using it for direct transport, he was going to instead use parts of it to craft something much more ambitious: The Sadler Armor. By taking spare scraps of metal and cords from his old creation, he made the skeleton of what would become a lightweight powered armor. In the span of 1 day, he had completed the base of the armor, and spent the following two days gathering funds and materials to develop his trademark B.B. pellet gatling gun, firecracker launcher, and diesel jetpack. As he had projected, the armor had amazingly reached completion in 3 days, and Sadler made his first flight back to Cal Poly Tech.
That year, the belated Steampunk Expo opened with a bang, with Sondheim performing a veritable airshow with his fireworks and jets. With his signaling, the expo continued as scheduled, with the same races, booths, and tabletop games taking place as before. At the end of the day, however, Sondheim made one last speech, detailing the strife he had faced in the past week, and what had driven him to create his armor. Sondheim then detailed his ultimate plan: create a full-scale flying fortress, from which Sondheim could patrol in. Manned by his most trusted members, Sondheim would be able to use the fortress as a mobile base of operations and effective scouting vessel. Though skeptical at first, Sondheim's insistence soon convinced the spectators that there was indeed a threat to their safety. With 65 members agreeing to help Sondheim, construction of Sondheim's fortress began. In the meantime, he fitted his armor with more powerful weapons, and took various test-runs around town. Apprehending any suspicious belligerents he saw and keeping a watchful eye over San Luis Obispo, he began to earn the name of Commander Zeppelin, many quickly making the connection between the man in 19th century dress and the giant balloon being constructed on the local campus.
Today, Commander Zeppelin's fortress continues to skirt the skies, currently making its rounds around Los Angeles. Despite his apolitical approach to superheroism, he has managed to gain a degree of fame among the cities his ship has flown over. Still, even though Sondheim seems perfectly content to do his job on his own, many of his own crew members, as well as his family, seriously fear for his mental and physical health.
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Commander Zeppelin is notable for not being particularly 'sane'. His fascination with steampunk and steam technologies is staggering, to say the least. In more general terms, though, Zeppelin is notable for his rather good organizational skills, even despite his inherent shyness. Zeppelin is also quite indecisive, prone to mulling over decisions for extremely long periods of time before coming to an internal consensus. Still, the decisions he does eventually make, though they might seem obtuse, do usually work out in the end.
Zeppelin isn't exactly hospitable. He tries to avoid contact whenever possible, and can be quite snobbish and condescending, thanks to his over-appreciation of his own natural talents and hobby. He is also quite easily frightened, as well as rather moody. While he is an excellent tactician at range, when people aren't aiming weapons directly at him or trying to lob his head off with a fireaxe, he will quickly be panicked by any immediate danger he faces. On the flipside, he can easily become enraged if he is labeled as a "Neo-Nazi", wherein he quickly loses all consideration for personal safety and will not hesitate to destroy everything. Long story short, Zeppelin has a short-fuse in several emotional categories. For all his tactical and engineering genius, he is quite volatile.
He makes up for all his physical shortcomings with his lightweight, but effective Sadler (eagle) armor. The armor itself supplies around the same amount of protection as a high-grade bulletproof vest, and is fitted with a Rocketpack, enabling Zeppelin to jet through the air at speeds nearing 82 miles per hour. Zeppelin's armor is absolutely loaded with weaponry, toting missile salvos on every spare compartment and cranny on the suit, and a gatling gun mounted on the shoulder. The gatling gun is unique in having pretty much the only non-period piece of equipment on the entire armor: a targetting laser, which can track enemies, making it easier for Zeppelin's non-homing missiles to make contact. Even though all his weapons do not home in on enemies, he doesn't really need the convenience - he has taught himself worthily how to use his own systems.
- Initially made as a test to see how well pure-rocket based power armor works.
- Of all characters I have, Commander Zeppelin is in the worst physical shape.
- The coat, pants, and other clothing he is wearing are inspired by WWI German soldier outfits. As mentioned before, he really, really hates being identified as a WWII German soldier.