France's most famous freedom fighter turns 50 next week. The elite of its air force will perform acrobatics, its politicians will gush their praise, and central Paris will host a giant festival. The hero in question is Asterix the Gaul, the diminutive warrior who first appeared in the French comic magazine Pilote on Oct. 29, 1959.
France has reason to be proud of Asterix. He is arguably their greatest military hero ever. Whereas Napoleon was eventually defeated, Asterix fights on to this day. And in an era when American exports from Disney to Coca-Cola dominate the world, hundreds of millions of people have read Asterix comics (325 million to be precise), in languages ranging from Mandarin to Arabic to Latin. While the days of Joan of Arc and Charles Martel are long gone and France's real military gumption is questioned and sometimes derided—most recently in Afghanistan—Asterix's heroic championing of the underdog inspire the brave-of-heart around the world.