Costumed superheroes by day, crazed ska musicians by night.

And what else would you expect from a bunch of smart alecks raised on "Star Wars," William Shatner, the music of Devo and California beaches?These wacky superheroes/musicians are the Aquabats, one of California's most promising musical acts. Opening stints on the Vans Warped Tour and for fellow Californians Reel Big Fish are threatening to reveal these secretive caped crusaders to the world at large. (The Aquabats will play with Reel Big Fish at Club DV8 in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Sept. 3.)

"It's beginning to affect our secret identities. We all have careers as high-priced fashion models, but humanity really needs our services right now," said Christian "Caped Commander" Jacobs, vocalist and song-writer for the band.

Onstage, the Aquabats claim to be half-amphibian, half-batlike denizens of Aqua-bania, a lost island akin to Atlantis. In real life, they are the brainchild of Jacobs, a one-time child star in television (see accompanying story) and a former missionary for the LDS Church. "I've got an unhealthy - or is that healthy - preoccupation with spreading the word and helping out people in need," he said. "Of course, most of what you hear about me is what I want you to believe."

In case you couldn't tell, most of Jacobs' answers are flippant, at least when he is in costume - which includes a rubber skull cap, eyemask, cape and body suit. But the same thing could be said of the Aquabats' music, as well as its live shows.

And speaking of Aquabat shows, they usually feature much more than just music. Also included are mock kung-fu fights (usually between the band and its costumed archrivals, the Sand Fleas), toilet paper catapults, pyrotechnics, lots of fire and gigantic prop spiders. Sometimes even the specter of Col. Sanders can be seen.

"There is much evil in the world," said Jacobs, who lived in Utah at one time. "Unfortunately for us, much of it shows up at our shows. But maybe that's fortunate for our fans. It makes things more en-ter-taining."

When they're not playing around onstage or walking down run-ways, the Aquabats have been writing ultracatchy ska songs, some of which will show up on their second CD. The band delayed recording those songs - the long-awaited follow-up to their self-released debut CD, "The Return of the Aquabats" - to field offers from record companies.

"Many labels came calling, but few were chosen," Jacobs said. "There were quite a few that did not have the courage to sign a band that openly opposes evil in all its forms. You really can't blame them."

Actually, many labels are hesitant to sign ska acts because they believe the genre - the fast-paced precursor to reggae - is a fad that is popular now but will fade just as soon.

The as-yet-untitled album will be the first release from Gold-en-voice Records, a new label hatched by the California concert promotions company Goldenvoice Productions. It will also be the first recorded material from the group's revamped roster.

"Some of our brothers have been recalled to Aquabania. But those who are replacing them are just as mighty," he said.

The current Aquabats lineup includes Jacobs' brother, Parker (formerly of the St. George ska act Gogo 13), and Jamie the Robot, whom Christian Jacobs says was constructed out of Jell-O.

"His arm fell off one time while we were playing, and we had to use cottage cheese to reattach it," he said.