|The Southern California Surfer Bats #1
By Ryan Shepard & Ian Crowe
If you were a kid in the late ’80s, you loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon show. Don’t bother telling me different; it was the law back then. In fact, Federal love subsidies made the production of animal superhero teams so cost effective that Saturday morning TV was flooded with them. Perhaps you remember Street Sharks, Biker Mice From Mars, Extreme Dinosaurs, C.O.W.Boys of Moo Mesa, Dino Squad, Dinosaucers, Samurai Pizza Cats or The Mighty Ducks (not the movies; the cartoon show about humanoid ducks who come from a world where hockey is the supreme religion (it was a weird time)).
You’re reading a comics blog, so you probably know that the Ninja Turtles started out as a gritty black-and-white independent comic parodying Frank Millar’s run on Daredevil. What you may not know is that the comic book was also massively popular, so much so that it spawned a slew of imitators, like Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters, Pre-Teen Dirty Gene Kung Fu Kangaroos, Cold-blooded Chameleon Commandos and dozens more I can’t actually remember off the top of my head.
Funny animal comics were actually pretty big in the ’80s; an old comic shop ad I have lists the price for a #1 issue of Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters at $13. But that was the ’80s; by the ’90s, the black-and-white bubble had popped, and the comics-buying public realized they had bought a bunch of instantly dated, not terribly funny cash-ins. As comics taste changed from the flash in the pan of fighting animals to the timeless art of Rob Liefield, the Ninja Turtles Parody genre largely dried up.
Ryan Shepard and Ian Crowe’s Southern California Surfer Bats aims to take us back to that mutant filled time of our youth. How well does it work? Let’s listen to the SCSB Theme Song and take a look.
Well, first off, let’s talk about the elephant in the room here: This art’s not very good at all! That’s really all I have to say about that, except dude, go a little easier on the gradients.
So, with the art out of the way, allow me to summarize the story. The time is 1979, the place is Venice Beach, and our heroes Slater and Jenny are too busy making out to notice that a Nike-shaped spaceship is crashing into the beach.
The next day, we meet Emmette, an old-school nerd complete with bowl cut, sweater vest, and bow tie. He asks the somewhat Muppet-like Jenny to go to prom with him, but she gently turns him down, since she’s already going with Slater.
Emmette’s not just a nerd, though, he’s also a mad scientist! He puts a tracking device on Jenny’s car, but signals from the alien ship interfere with his tracker, and when he shows up at the crash site, he finds enough alien technology scattered over the beach to feed his mad-science habit for years to come.
Meanwhile, the aliens, having been injured in the spaceship crash, are forced to take over the bodies of some nearby bats in order to survive.
Then everybody spends the next ten years and eight pages not doing much of anything.
And that brings me to the major problem I have with this comic: There aren’t any surfing bats in it. I mean, how does that even happen in a comic called Southern California Surfer Bats? I came to see humanoid bat monsters catching gnarly waves and foiling Emmette’s totally bogus plots.
I think this is a particular disease that American comics tend to fall into a lot, both in print and on the web. Since comics are very often written with the expectation that they’re going to run for dozens of issues, creators seem to pace them out as one long story, forgetting that we readers are only going to be getting tiny chunks parceled out over long periods of time.
So you get things where web comics that only put up one page a week will have an eight-page fight sequence, forgetting that, for the audience, that’s two months with no advances in plot or characterization. Or you get Southern California Surfer Bats, which delays all the money shots until issue two.
All of the exposition and set-up in this first issue is justified, and if I were reading it as the first 23 pages of a 48-page comic, I wouldn’t even blink at it. But I’m not; I got a review copy of issue #1, and issue #2 isn’t coming for at least a couple of months.
Honestly, I can get past the art, and the occasional typo, but darn it, I want to see some Surfer Bats!