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Webcomic / Lighter Than Heir

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From left to right: Ada Fleischer, Fritz Roth, Zeppelin von Schultheiss, Emmerich Hertz, Ria Klein, and Mathis Schultz.

Lighter Than Heir is a webcomic created by Melissa Albino, aka Nalem. As of November 2013, their partner Spanio is the project's writer, with Nalem on art. The story follows Zeppelin von Schultheiss, a volant note  girl who grows weary of living in the shadow of her famous father, the late, great Major Hemmel von Schultheiss. As the only daughter of a deceased legendary war hero, Zeppelin has always received much love from the public, but never for any of her own achievements- no matter what, people would always, somehow, link her back to dear old dad. Resentment boiling within her, Zeppelin signs up for the military as soon as she turns 19, determined to make a name for herself and outdo her old man. However, if she expects a free ride, she'll be in for a hell of a trip- the army isn't known for catering to the whims of self-absorbed 19-year-old brats.


Meant to update every Tuesday and Friday, though the busy lives of the creators have left the update schedule loose.

Lighter Than Heir contains examples of:

  • AKA47: The guns carried by the protagonists as they head to catch a ride on a boat for a mission strongly resemble late-war FG 42s (seen on the bottom).
  • Almost Kiss: In the last panel of page 458, a tipsy Zeppelin and a tipsy Hertz get very, very close after the former falls on top of the latter... who proceeds to unceremoniously shove her off in the first panel of the next page.
  • Amusing Injuries: Roth unnecessarily knees Schultz in the groin during a hand-to-hand exercise, which is naturally funny. Later, one of Roth's fingers gets shot off in a training accident, and it is treated as humorous (it gets reattached). Averted with most of the other injuries shown, which are treated seriously.
  • An Arm and a Leg: The comic does not shy away from showing the horrific effects of military weaponry. Fortunately for Steinbech's soldiers, their Artificial Limbs are top-notch.
    • Well, military weaponry as well as, in Avery Roemer's case, lightning rods and gravity.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Zamoran Government. The similarities include being forbidden from holding a military after losing a war with a neighboring country, being resentful towards said neighbor, building up a formidable military in secret, performing grisly human experiments on unwilling victims in secret laboratories, being obsessed with genetic "superiority", launching surprise attacks without warning, and massacring entire cities. Hell, with a splash of black paint, their banner wouldn't fail to evoke a resemblance to the Nazi flag..
  • Art Evolution: The art style noticeably improves over time. Just compare one of the early strips, such as in basic training arc, with a later strip, such as the out to sea arc.
  • Artificial Limbs: Seemingly a specialty of Steinbech's technology, not counting their weapons tech. And they don't just do replacements. Vogel gets a "cast" over his broken arm which is basically a gauntlet, and he's shown being able to move it almost like normal while it's healing.
  • Asshole Victim: The Zamoran farmer who the squad robs and who Zeppelin knocks out. While he was indeed defending his farm from robbers, when he cornered three of them he was going to murder them in cold blood instead of simply holding them until the police arrived.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: Neither Steinbech nor Zamora are really upstanding countries, but the former is shown to be less brutal than the latter. Steinbech holds racist attitudes towards Zamorans, used firebombs on Zamoran cities during the last war, and during the current war handed power from a freely elected parliament to a military dictatorship. However the Zamorans perform grisly human experiments in an effort to produce super soldiers, assassinated the Steinbech Prime Minister, and attacked Steinbech cities unprovoked.
  • Blood Knight: Zeppelin, shading into The Berserker after she escapes Doctor Villalobos. Face her in combat and she will kill you, even if she has to sacrifice parts of her own body to do so. A Hot-Blooded fighter with a Hair-Trigger Temper, a Berserk Button, and a well-founded hatred for the Zamorans, Zeppelin is teetering on the brink of becoming something much worse. Hertz recognizes the signs even if nobody else does.
  • Break the Haughty: Austerlitz admits that a big part of his Drill Sergeant Nasty training was supposed to do this for Zeppelin. Despite it failing, he grudgingly lets her graduate from training with the rest. Her disastrous tour of Zamora and finding her father's butchered corpse have done a much better job of achieving this trope.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: Even in its more violent and dramatic bits, the strip stays relatively lighthearted - until Zeppelin is vivisected, then finds her father's corpse, at which point all the plot lines start to get very dark, very fast. There are still moments of calm, but it's mostly storm.
  • Cycle of Revenge: The Zamorans still resent Steinbech's actions during the war against Boyarov, to the point of infiltrating their bases and sabotaging their weapons. This, understandably, annoys the Steiners, and around and around it goes. Roth is nearly killed by a scout who beats him bloody because she blames Steiners for her family's death when she was eight- never mind that he was twelve at the time, and thus clearly not in any way responsible.
  • Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You: Hemmel was killed, possibly by vivisection, and his corpse remained in Marilyn Villalobos' laboratory.
  • Democracy Is Flawed: See Head-in-the-Sand Management below.
  • Disappeared Dad: Zeppelin is still angry at her father for failing to return. Finding out just what happened to him- that he was tortured to death, and vivisected by Zamoran scientists- isn't the explanation she wanted.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Sergeant Austerlitz, who is actually a decorated veteran. In an interesting twist, it doesn't fully work in instilling discipline in the squad of the protagonists (see Mildly Military). Then again, this is possibly due to the saboteur and spy who had infiltrated their squad.
  • Edible Bludgeon: At one point Zeppelin knocks a farmer out by dropping a pig on him.
  • Evil Luddite: Zamorans hate Steiner war machines and seem to dislike technology in general. Their government doesn't seem to mind using technology to breed or create super soldiers though...
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: The squad members all have their hair shaved off after entering training camp. They later grow it back out.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
    • Going by the names and general behavior, the Steiners are obviously German in heritage, with some of them (including Zeppelin) spouting off a few phrases in German from time to time.
    • The Zamorans are harder to pin down in terms of culture, but the origin of the name, as well as place names and characters' names, points to them being from a counterpart of Spain. (Zamora is a province in Spain, as well as the name of the capital city of said province.)
    • From what little we've seen of it so far, Boyarov appears to be Russian.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: The different members of the squad become less hostile towards each other as the circumstances they endure become progressively worse. Especially when the new war begins.
  • Flight: A rare few humans, such as Zeppelin and her father before her, are "volants", capable of unassisted free flight. It's not very well known how they've come to be, how common they are, or just what makes a volant, but it does seem to be naturally occurring, and there are a known quantity in the world; Hemmel was sought out to join the Steinbech military specifically so he could be groomed as a war hero and icon. At some point before the events of the comic started, Zamora started experimenting on humans to try and "induce" volant traits in humans, and eventually became capable of mass-producing them for wartime. Of note, despite the rough technology level of the setting, volants are the only current source of human flight, making them all the more valuable.
  • Foreshadowing: In the sixth comic, a bystander comments that Zepplin's mom has seen better days. 549 comics later, it's revealed that she was a propaganda pinup girl in the previous war. It's nothing major plot-wise, but it's one hell of a long-term setup.
  • Funny Background Event: After they Almost Kiss, Hertz and Zeppelin get into cute background shenanigans at the bar, as Ria and Schultz have an angst-ridden foreground event.
  • Harsh Word Impact: A drunken Zeppelin gets Hertz with one of these.
    Zeppelin: Oh! Oh! Maybe that's why you can't fly!
  • Head-in-the-Sand Management: The Steinbech Chancellor tried to use diplomacy to prevent another war even after the Zamoran military attacked an extraction convoy and tortured three of the Chancellor's own soldiers. He ends up being assassinated by a Zamoran sniper, and control of the government is given over to the Steinbech military.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • Ria, after sniping someone to save Austerlitz.
    • Zeppelin, after killing four Zamoran volants and after finding her father's mutilated corpse.
  • Hilariously Abusive Childhood: A more accidental version though no less unpleasant - Vogel mentions his family is very scatterbrained, and elaborates with an anecdote of his mother struggling for three hours to find him after forgetting she strapped him to his back while he was young. Schultz states that he might actually be safer in Steinbech, and even Roth (who was a family-less Con Man that was punched in the jaw so much he had to get a titanium replacement) seemed horrified.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Page 351 is a steady stream of puns from Roth and Hertz. A captive Zamoran guard begs them to stop.
  • Hypocrite: For a country that hates all machines, the Zamorans sure have a lot of guns, and at least one radar station. These are, however, necessities if one is fighting in a war. What isn't a necessity is a volant human engineering project by a scientist who claims that human enhancement is totally different from the technology the Zamorans hate. However, she just seems to be paying lip service to the idea. Hell, she doesn't seem to be Zamoran at all, and even experimented on Steiners in the past.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: When Austerlitz tells his recruits that they're finally ready for some weapons training, he takes a crate of loaded guns and throws it at them. Several of them misfire in midair on the way, hitting several students and taking Roth's index finger clean off.
  • Instant Awesome: Just Add Mecha!:
    • Fleischer made one with Hertz's help, because she wanted one. It later becomes a standard unit in the Steinbech military.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: While stopping at an island, Captain Nora has everyone hunt wild boars and threatens to leave anyone behind who doesn't bring back at least one. She later reveals this is a Motivational Lie and she doesn't abandon people on the island. Just then a bearded man in rags appears claiming she did just that. Nora points out he went missing, they stayed there for several days looking for him and this happened one month earlier.
  • Jerkass: Zeppelin is the biggest offender of all, but Roth and Austerlitz are guilty as well. So is Hertz, to a lesser extent.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: When Hertz and Roth defeat two Zamoran guards, Roth tells them not to mess with them, or they'll get pain, because pain Hertz. Hertz shoves a gun under Roth's chin.
  • Last-Name Basis: The characters being in the military, who usually refer to each other by last name.
  • Lensman Arms Race: Zamoran volant super soldiers versus Steiner mechas.
  • Loophole Abuse: When Captain Nora has the crew catch wild boars for food and trade, Major Hohenut spears one and presents it to her. She admits she never specified they had be alive.
  • Mauve Shirt: The Zamoran security forces that apprehend Hertz and Roth get names and a bit of characterization. Then Zeppelin kills them all while in shock, after seeing her father's dissected corpse.
  • Mildly Military: Played with. The majority of the military does run on fairly tight discipline. The squad of the protagonists, not so much. The military brass doesn't seem overly concerned, though. This is because they are more focused on the possibility of the war rekindling.
  • The Mole: It becomes very clear early on that there is one on the training grounds. It turns out to be Kurt Grunwald, who not only feigned being broken by the training, but is also secretly a volant like Zeppelin, albeit an artificial one.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • After getting treated to seeing whatever's left of her dad, we cut immediately to a flashback of an adorable Zeppelin celebrating her fifth birthday.
    • Almost literally when, after Ria expresses apprehension at having to kill a person, Zeppelin breaks the tension by humorously shaking the entire squad around the back of the truck they were in because she decided to drive on the ground instead of the road for a spell.
  • Motivational Lie: Captain Nora orders everyone to bring back one wild boar from Schweinefleisch Island or get left behind. When Ria's team brings back one and is about to head back to their trap for more, she admits she doesn't really leave people behind. A bearded man in rags shows up on the beach demanding revenge, but Nora points out he had gotten lost and they waited two days for him, and it happened last month (meaning he already had a long beard). He settles for being rescued from the island.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Fritz Roth is on the receiving end of one after he gets captured by a Zamoran guard.
  • Oh, Crap!: How the squad reacts when the government announces the war against Zamora.
    • A Zamoran security guard understandably has this reaction after he watches Zeppelin toss his comrade through a wall with her volant powers. Zeppelin makes good on his fears by spearing him to death using the dissection machine her father was connected to.
  • One Degree of Separation:
    • Sergeant Austerlitz (the sergeant who trained Zeppelin), Major Hohenhut (the person Zeppelin's squad answers to), and General Eckstein (the general of the Steinbech army, now current head of state) were all squad-mates and possibly friends with Zeppelin's father, Hemmel.
    • Hertz was experimented on as a child by the same scientist who tortured Hemmel to death and later tried to vivisect Zeppelin in kind. He reveals that they're no different when, later, he shows her his matching scar.
    • Vogel- who Fleischer injured, and who Zeppelin's squad had to escort back to Zamora- is a cousin to Kurt Bosque, who once tried to strangle Zeppelin to death.
  • Plucky Girl: Roemer. Having her arm impaled by a lightning rod and torn from her body after being dropped from on high, and suffering through the phantom pain of that dismemberment, then having a horrible war start up again, is but a mild inconvenience for her cheery disposition.
  • Police Brutality:
    • When Hertz is in jail and falsely accused of treason and attempted murder, the soldier guarding him tries to murder him in cold blood because he keeps talking. The gun explodes immediately, killing said soldier.
    • One page shows Zeppelin causing Vogel to fall off a high wall after catching him trying to sneak over it.
    • A few pages later we see an unnamed Steinbech border guard punching a Zamoran tourist in the nose.
  • Police State: When Steinbech enters a state of war, the civilian government steps down and the military takes full control of the country. When Steinbech went to war against Zamora, the first thing General Eckstein did was have any Zamoran or anyone of Zamoran descent arrested on suspicion of espionage.
  • Poor Communication Kills: There's a long list.
    • Vogel intentionally got the team lost instead of just telling them that he didn't want to show up home with some Steiner medical tech on his arm. This led to them wandering a bombed-out ruin that had become a secret research facility.
    • The volants guarding said research facility refused to believe that the team was escorting a Zamoran home, and immediately attacked.
    • For that matter, a lot of trouble could have been avoided if the Steiner military had informed Zamora that they were escorting Vogel home (or just asked for a pickup at the border) instead of trying to sneak through with an armed convoy, but they were trying to avoid the political embarrassment of admitting that a Zamoran tourist had gotten injured on Steinbech's watch to begin with.
    • When they finally got Vogel home, Hertz and Roth went to use the old Steiner radio tower without asking any questions. Vogel would have been able to tell them that it had been re-purposed into a military outpost, and was off limits.
    • When one of the scouts saw Hertz and Roth approaching, she nearly killed them, assuming they were spies, and refused to listen to anything to the contrary. She later lied to her superiors, claiming Roth fell off the tower instead of admitting she beat him up herself.
    • When they're in prison, the prime minister doesn't believe them either- partly because of the scout lying to her, and partly because the Zamoran they claim to be escorting is nowhere to be found. But at least she started by asking why they were in the country.
    • Hertz managed to get a message back to Steiner before they were arrested, so Austerlitz rolls in like he owns the place, having not even bothered to call ahead and let the Zamorans know he's coming to peacefully extract his men.
    • And someone (possibly the Zamoran prime minister, possibly someone else entirely) is organizing Zamoran youths to infiltrate Steiner and cripple their infrastructure, which is a large part of what started the war.
  • The Power of Legacy: Zeppelin might hold resentment towards her father, but it is built on a basis of respect for him, and her mission to live up to- and improve upon- the legacy he left behind. The culmination of this: after Zeppelin finds her father's tortured and mutilated corpse, she vows that she won't tell anyone what happened to him, and proceeds to burn down the entire facility.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: The main cast at one point steals produce and livestock from a Zamoran farmer, with Zeppelin even maiming him in the process.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The scene with soldiers killing children. When someone complained about this scene being over-the-top, the author sarcastically stated that such things don't happen in real life- before promptly linking to a news article about something similar happening in real life.
  • Steampunk: Some influences are there, such as the machines the Steiners pilot and the metallic arm cast.
  • Scars are Forever: Hertz has a strange set of scars on his back. They're from a failed procedure to turn him into a volant. Zeppelin later finds herself injured in the same manner by a similar machine, in an effort to vivisect her and learn more about volants.
  • Silent Snarker: One of the people standing in line on page 10.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran:
    • Zeppelin starts suffering from PTSD after she kills Zamoran soldiers, and after she finds her father's dissected corpse.
    • Klein becomes far more withdrawn after her first kill.
    • Hertz is an inversion because his PTSD resulted from being experimented on as a child, long before he was ever in the military.
  • Shur Fine Guns: The rifles used by the Steinbech military are incredibly sensitive and tend to misfire with the slightest jolt, as noted in I Just Shot Marvin in the Face above. There is also the matter of their rifles blowing up in their faces when fired- a result of enemy sabotage, true, but the fact that this sabotage required no more effort than intentionally botched assembly speaks to the safety of the weapons.
  • Stealth Pun: The Steinbech capital is named Schwerpunkt. This is the German word for "focal point", as a capital tends to be to a country's politics.
  • Strapped to an Operating Table: Zeppelin wakes up cocooned inside a steampunk-ish version of this.
  • Super Soldier: It turns out that the Zamorans have been trying to create artificial volants for years. Hertz is an early victim of a failed procedure to do so.
  • The Unfettered:
    • Doctor Villalobos gleefully experiments on unwilling human subjects, torturing and killing them in the process.
    • General Alexandrov, before being killed with a grenade by Hemmel, was willing to murder children in cold blood.
  • Tomato Surprise: The audience is led to believe that the comic begins in the aftermath of a war between Steinbech and Zamora; in fact, they were on the same side.
  • Traumatic Superpower Awakening: Though already capable of flight well before the events of the comic started, Zeppelin learns a few new tricks in desperation to escape her capture and torture in Zamora, gaining the power to Blow You Away.
  • Walk on Water: Anyone who is a volant is capable of this due to being buoyant enough not to sink. Zeppelin uses this property to crush an enemy volant's head with her bare hands, by forcing him down into water.
  • War Is Hell: One of the core themes of the comic. There are numerous atrocities, combat is brutal, many soldiers die in battle, and those who don't often develop PTSD.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Zepplin suffers from this bad in regards to her father. What makes it brutal is that he died a war hero when she was a little girl.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Steinbech and Zamora, actually. A flashback shows Steinbech defending a Zamoran town against Boyarov, ending with its citizens venerating Zeppelin's father Hemmel as a hero; Austerlitz also mentions having yearly visited a Zamoran summer camp as a child and that he can't understand why things have changed and caused the new war since then.
  • Wham Line: From Zeppelin: "...Dad?"
  • Why Won't You Die?: A frustrated Zeppelin on page 631, to a thus far quite uncooperative Kurt.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
  • Your Mom: A drunk Hertz and a drunk Zeppelin have one of these exchanges.
    Zeppelin: Psh, what're you, my mom?
    Hertz: Ha! No. If I was your mom... I wouldn't even be here.