Heroic Beasts, Powers of Grayskull

Turbodactyl: Heroic Reptile with “Jet” Wings (1987)

Like most of the 1987 line of MOTU figures, Turbodactyl escaped my notice as a child. He seems to be perhaps the least popular of the three dinosaurs released in the Powers of Grayskull series, but he does have an interesting history.

Design & Development

One piece of concept art sometimes grouped with the Turbodactyl idea is a drawing by Roger Sweet showing Skeletor riding something that looks a bit like a pterodactyl. However, upon closer examination it looks more like Mattel’s late 1970s Rodan toy. While this would have been a neat way to reuse the tool, I’m sure it wouldn’t have worked out given that Mattel was not the owner of the Rodan design.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

The first true Turbodactyl concept art comes from Mark Jones, dating to September 4, 1985. In this drawing the beast features a mechanical back and tail, similar to a fighter jet, as well as mechanically-enhanced legs. He-Man is being carried in flight.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

The concept was passed to John Hollis, who took another pass at it in this January 17, 1986 illustration. Mark Jones is listed as the originator, while John Hollis is listed as the designer/artist. It’s given the name of “Terror-Dactyl,” and we see Skeletor riding it while it grasps Moss Man in its claws. Other than the purple coloring and the name, the design is pretty close to the actual toy.

Many thanks to Pixel Dan for allowing me to snap a shot of this art at Power-Con 2023!
A clearer look at the label

Here is a shot of the hard copy/prototype toy, which appears with a light colored body and dark colored jet engines.

Many thanks to Pixel Dan for allowing me to snap a shot of this at Power-Con 2023!

We can see the finalized colors in the cross sell artwork, shown below. We can see it has returned to its original brown color scheme, and is once again aligned with the good guys:

The toy was advertised, along with the other two dinosaurs, in the 1987 Mattel catalog (image via Nathalie NHT):

Figure & Packaging

Turbodactyl’s US packaging featured the Powers of Grayskull logo and design style:

The artwork on the front of the packaging was done by Warren Hile, who also did the box art for Bionatops and Tyrantisaurus Rex:

The back of the packaging features some backstory on the Powers of Grayskull line and about Bionatops. I’ll reproduce all of the text here:

TURBODACTYL

PROFILE: Heroic Reptile with “Jet” Wings

SPECIAL WEAPON: Powerful talons for grabbing Evil Warriors!

ORIGIN: Distant Relative of the Pterodactyl pterosaur from Pre-Historic Earth!

Travel back in time through a secret time portal-and discover the ORIGIN of THE POWERS OF GRAYSKULL! Learn how He-Man became so strong! And explore the magical world of Preternia – home of HE-RO, the Most Powerful WIZARD in the Universe!

Monstrous dinosaurs and fierce giants – both good and evil – struggle violently for control of this strange & hostile land!

The dinosaurs in the time of HE-RO – Tyrantisaurus Rex, Bionatops and Turbodactyl – each posess a fantastic mechanical power!

Can HE-RO master all the good magic of the Ancient Wizards and protect future Eternia from forever falling into the claws of evil?

Look for He-Ro and the Powers of Grayskull coming your way in 1987!

TURBODACTYL has 2 wing-mounted “jets” at its command!

Whoever pilots TURBODACTYL can control his mighty beak by pulling back on its horned head. Few escape its turbo-tooth grip!

Squeeze its legs — and make Turbodactyl grab evil warriors with its claw-like talons!

Turbodactyl has limited articulation, having the ability to open his beak and squeeze his legs together. His wings don’t flap, but they are removable. Images below come from some old eBay auctions, as I don’t own one myself:

The above photos represent the US release (manufactured in Mexico). The European release, made in Italy, had an upturned nose, and his mouth does not close completely:

Image source: Boons Art Shop

Like the other two dinosaurs in the line, this figure is relatively rare and expensive on the secondary market.

Turbodactyl appears in the 1987 style guide, with a bare-bones description of the figure, focusing on its abilities and affiliation. The artwork is rather stylized and doesn’t strictly follow the look of the toy.

Image via Grayskull Museum

Here’s the text of the style guide written out:

TURBODACTYL

NAME: Turbodactyl

GROUP AFFILIATION: Heroic Animals. Powers of Grayskull segment.

ROLE: Heroic flying dinosaur

POWER: It can swoop down out of the sky and grab enemies of He-Ro with its claws.

YEAR OF TOY INTRO: 1987

Comic Appearances

Turbodactyl was featured in the background of the cover of The Powers of Grayskull: The Legend Begins. The comic was intended to introduce the new Powers of Grayskull line, and was the first in a three part story. However only part one was released, and the entire MOTU line was cancelled due to flagging sales.

In the story, He-Man and Sorceress travel back in time to Preternia, initially to teach He-Man about Eternia’s past. But when Skeletor follows them back in time and teams up with King Hiss to destroy the Elders, He-Man is allowed to intervene once he is given a disguise. In the story, Turbodactyl (called Pterodactyl) actually belongs to King Hiss, who allows Skeletor to ride it. It’s colored blue like John Hollis’ concept art.

Images are from the Dark Horse minicomics collection

In Journey To Preternia, in the 1987 Spring issue of MOTU Magazine, Skeletor and He-Man accidentally travel through a time portal. Upon arriving, He-Man rescues Turbodactyl (who incidentally can talk) from some living quicksand. Later in the story he returns the favor by allowing He-Man to ride him into battle against Skeletor. In the end Turbodactyl flies He-Man and Skeletor to the same time portal that brought them to Preternia, which returns them to Eternia.

Turbodactly appears very briefly in the 1987 UK comic story, A Rip In Time. He is again colored blue, like the John Hollis concept design.

Turbodactlys (plural) appear in the MOTU newspaper comic story called Terror Takes Time. One of the people enslaved by Hordak manages to summon and take command of a few of them, which they use to drive off Horde Troopers. They are colored green in this story. Thanks to Øyvind Meisfjord for pointing this appearance out to me.

Other Appearances

Turbodactyl is featured on the cover of the 1987 Spring issue of He-Man and the Masters of the Magazine in an illustration by Earl Norem. In the illustration he’s ridden by He-Man, facing off against Tyrantisaurus Rex.

He also appears in the 1988 Winter issue of the same magazine, again illustrated by Earl Norem. He has grabbed hold of Mosquitor in this illustration.

Update: Dušan Mitrović also notes that a reworked version of Turbodactyl was slated to appear in the unproduced 1987 Filmation pitch for He-Ro and the Land of Legend.

Turbodactly, being ridden by King Randor, is featured in William George’s Preternia painting:

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Turbodactlyappears in some Errol McCarthy artwork done for a line of T-Shirts. This version is again colored blue, like John Hollis’ artwork, although he is heroic in this image.

Images via He-Man.org

Turbodactly appeared in ads around the world as well:

Image source: Grayskull Museum

Turbodactyl in Action

Øyvind Meisfjord has kindly shared the following videos and action shots of Turbodactly!

Thank you to the following individuals who are current Patreon supporters!

  • Ben M.
  • Eric H.
  • Jon E.
  • Matthias K.
  • Max I.
  • MotuOriginsCork
  • Orion W.
  • Øyvind M.
  • Philip O.
  • Robert B.
  • That Clyde Guy

Want to support the blog? Consider becoming a Patreon supporter. You’ll also gain access to exclusive content and early access to posts on the blog. Alternatively, you can do your toy shopping through my Entertainment Earth affiliate link, below. Thank you!

The MOTU Living Archive at Orko’s Keep

Also, if you have good scans of vintage MOTU books, comics, magazines and other print material, please consider sharing them with my buddy Ben Massa. Ben is building an archive of vintage MOTU material that he will share with fans, comparable to the old He-Man.org archives, but with higher resolution material. Learn more at this link.

Heroic Beasts, Powers of Grayskull

Bionatops: Heroic Bionic Dinosaur (1987)

Bionatops was a figure I don’t recall encountering as a kid. I did see a Tyrantisaurus Rex at a friend’s house, but he was the only Powers of Grayskull dinosaur I saw during childhood. He’s a nice-looking figure, if very limited in articulation, and one that sought to capture the growing popularity of dinosaur toys in the late 1980s.

Design & Development

The concept for a triceratops-like toy in the MOTU line has a relatively long history, beginning with an Ed Watts concept dating to December 8, 1983. The Watts concept looks a bit like a styracosaurus, in that it only has one forward facing horn and a spikey frill. In the image below, it is being ridden by Skeletor and Trap Jaw, and features a metal face plate and mechanical details around its armor:

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Watts illustrated another variation on this theme, this time featuring guns attached to two forward-facing horns coming out of the frill. This version features mechanical enhancements to the legs, and is being ridden by Dragon Blaster Skeletor on the horns rather than the back. It dates to September 4, 1985.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Mark Jones illustrated a similar concept dinosaur, this time with guns coming directly out of the two forward facing horns. Skeletor rides a saddle on its back. It also dates to September 4, 1985.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Finally, on January 15, 1986, David Wolfram did a final rendering of the dinosaur concept, called at the time, simply, Triceratops. It is similar in many ways to the 1985 Watts concept, although the gun has been modified and the beast is now allied with the heroic warriors. He-Man is shown riding in front of the frill.

Image source: David Wolfram

In my interview with Martin Arriola, he had some additional information regarding the sculpting of Bionatops:

On the boys’ side, [engineering] was all done inside, and you had to go through politics. Now everything goes to vendor. You had to get saddled with people who were not so talented. Like Bionatops. This guy, Hal Faulkner had a bitchin sculpt, but the engineer started smoothing out the mold and getting rid of musculature. Smoothing it all out. My manager said he was fixing it, but it looked like a piggy bank. He also worked on middle tower for Eternia. There was only so much you could do.

You can see the finalized design in the cross sell artwork for Bionatops:

The toy was advertised, along with the other two dinosaurs, in the 1987 Mattel catalog (image via Nathalie NHT):

Figure & Packaging

Bionatops’ packaging featured the Powers of Grayskull logo and design style:

The artwork on the front of the packaging was done by Warren Hile, who also did the box art for Turbodactyl and Tyrantisaurus Rex:

The back of the packaging features some backstory on the Powers of Grayskull line and about Bionatops. I’ll reproduce all of the text here:

BIONATOPS

PROFILE: Heroic Bionic Dinosaur

WEAPON: Rotatable weapons mount onto horns!

ORIGIN: Related to the Triceratops dinosaur of pre-historic earth – natural enemy to Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Travel back in time through a secret time portal-and discover the ORIGIN of THE POWERS OF GRAYSKULL! Learn how He-Man became so strong! And explore the magical world of Preternia – home of HE-RO, the Most Powerful WIZARD in the Universe!

Monstrous dinosaurs and fierce giants – both good and evil – struggle violently for control of this strange & hostile land!

The dinosaurs in the time of HE-RO – Tyrantisaurus Rex, Bionatops and Turbodactyl – each posess a fantastic mechanical power.

Can HE-RO master all the good magic of the Ancient Wizards and protect future Eternia from forever falling into the claws of evil?

Look for He-Ro and the Powers of Grayskull coming your way in 1987!

Make jaw open… it chomps down! Rotate weapons on both sides!

Fit Weapons Rack onto horns, then “Lasers” on pegs!

The heroic BIONATOPS, with his massive bony head, carries warriors into battle – armors with a rotating laser weapons arsenal that mounts on its horns!

Like Battle Cat, Panthor, Stridor and Night Stalker before him, Bionatops lacks leg articulation. He is able to open and close his jaw, but otherwise he’s basically a statue. Images below come from some old eBay auctions, as I don’t own one myself:

It’s typical for the toy to have broken horns and missing guns. That combined with the low production numbers in 1987 make it expensive to acquire on the secondary market.

Bionatops appears in the 1987 style guide, with a bit more background on the four-legged dinosaur. He is described as He-Ro’s mount, although He-RO is usually associated with Turbodactyl.

NAME: Bionatops

GROUP AFFILIATION: Heroic Animals, Powers of Grayskull Segment

ROLE: Heroic dinosaur mount of He-Ro

POWER: Carries He-Ro or one of his wizards into battle; chews up defenses with its jaws; uses its horns to knock enemies out of the way.

Image via Grayskull Museum

Comic Appearances

Bionatops was featured on the cover of The Powers of Grayskull: The Legend Begins. The comic was intended to introduce the new Powers of Grayskull line, and was the first in a three part story. However only part one was released, and the entire MOTU line was cancelled due to flagging sales.

In the story, He-Man and Sorceress travel back in time to Preternia, initially to teach He-Man about Eternia’s past. But when Skeletor follows them back in time and teams up with King Hiss to destroy the Elders, He-Man is allowed to intervene. He is given a disguise and the Sorceress conjures up Bionatops for him to ride into battle (images come from the Dark Horse minicomics collection).

In Journey To Preternia, in the 1987 Spring issue of MOTU Magazine, Skeletor and He-Man accidentally travel through a time portal, and end up allying with Tyrantisaurus and Bionatops, respectively.

Images via He-Man.org

Bionatops appears very briefly in the 1987 UK comic story, A Rip In Time. There are actually two of them, and they feature guns popping out of their chests:

Other Appearances

Bionatops is featured on the cover of the 1988 Winter issue of He-Man and the Masters of the Magazine in an illustration by Earl Norem:

He appears in another piece of Norem artwork used in an inside page of the Spring 1987 issue of MOTU Magazine.

Scan of the original Norem artwork, as featured on the Heritage Auctions website.

He appears also in the background of the cover of the Spring 1987 issue, again illustrated by Earl Norem.

Bionatops is featured front and center in William George’s Preternia painting:

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Bionatops appears in some Errol McCarthy artwork done for a line of T-Shirts. This version features the golden guns as depicted in David Wolfram’s concept art:

Bionatops appeared in ads around the world as well:

Image source: Grayskull Museum

Bionatops in Action

Øyvind Meisfjord has kindly shared the following video and action shots of Bionatops and He-Man!

Thank you to the following individuals who are current Patreon supporters!

  • Ben M.
  • Eric H.
  • Jon E.
  • Matthias K.
  • Max I.
  • MotuOriginsCork
  • Orion W.
  • Øyvind M.
  • Philip O.
  • Robert B.
  • That Clyde Guy

Want to support the blog? Consider becoming a Patreon supporter. You’ll also gain access to exclusive content and early access to posts on the blog. Alternatively, you can do your toy shopping through my Entertainment Earth affiliate link, below. Thank you!

The MOTU Living Archive at Orko’s Keep

Also, if you have good scans of vintage MOTU books, comics, magazines and other print material, please consider sharing them with my buddy Ben Massa. Ben is building an archive of vintage MOTU material that he will share with fans, comparable to the old He-Man.org archives, but with higher resolution material. Learn more at this link.

Evil Warriors

No, “Demo-Man” was not an early Skeletor concept

Back in 2009, in the early days of MOTU Classics, a controversial bio was included on the back of Skeletor’s packaging. The bio leaned more or less on the origin story for Skeletor made popular in the Mike Young Productions He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series, where Keldor is mortally wounded in a failed acid attack against Randor. His face is badly burned, and his life is saved by Hordak. In the process he becomes Skeletor. But in the Classics bio, a new detail was added. Keldor was merged with an initially-unnamed extra-dimensional being as part of his process of healing and becoming Skeletor. The name of the being was initially withheld until Mattel had the rights to the name Demo-Man. Fans reacted negatively, reasoning that Skeletor shouldn’t need to be combined with some other being to become the evil Skeletor.

Image source: Poe Ghostal

Once the rights to Demo-Man were secured, this updated bio was used, adding “the extra-dimensional being Demo-Man from Despondos.”

Two years later, when the Demo-Man figure was released, his bio gave some additional details to the merger with Keldor, although no real information about Demo-Man himself was provided. Part of the purpose of this exercise was to explain away early minicomic canon that contradicted later canon. Skeletor’s attempt to bring “his people” to Eternia is retconned as temporary insanity brought on by his having merged with Demo-Man. In the bio story, Hordak would have used this delusion as an opportunity to have Skeletor bring him to Eternia. Of course as any historian will tell you, when you try to harmonize two contradictory stories, you just end up creating a third contradictory story. MOTU is has many, many contradictory canons, which keep multiplying over the years as the property is continually rebooted. I think that’s why many fans seem to have their own personal preferred canons, often incorporating novel ideas of their own. The story has never been tightly controlled.

Image source: The Fwoosh
From He-Man and the Power Sword, written by Don Glut and Illustrated by Alfredo Alcala

So why was Demo-Man put into Skeletor’s bio in the first place? Well, the ethos in the days of MOTU Classics was to try to retcon certain concepts and variant characters as new characters. A good example of this is “Oo-Larr,” a representation of the first appearance of He-Man in the original He-Man and the Power Sword minicomic. In Classics canon, he was retconned as a different character from He-Man, because this version of He-Man was a Tarzan-like warrior with no Prince Adam alter ego, and his backstory is unique and contradicted later stories.

First appearance of He-Man. Illustration by Alfredo Alcala. Later retconned as “Oo-Larr.”

Other examples include Vikor and Vykron, who were early concepts that were retconned into their own separate characters. I’ve never really understood the reasoning for this. At the time the explanation was that it would “justify” making figures of these designs if they were separate characters. However, the Classics line was chock-full of He-Man variants, so it’s hard to see why this justification was ever needed. In the end it was probably just the preference of the brand manager at the time, who was trying to create his own overarching story for the brand, encompassing all eras of MOTU. Retconning early contradictory ideas made the bios easier to write.

Anyway, in the early days of the Classics line, some Mark Taylor concept art was circulating among fans, depicting a green, bearded orc-like character with a rotting skull face. It was undated and unlabeled. There is no obvious connection to Skeletor, other than the decaying face. At the same time the brand manager had found a list of potential names for characters in Mattel’s archives. One early name for Skeletor, per his recollection, was Demo-Man (although the name De-Man or D Man is what appears on Skeletor B-sheets). But again, this name did not appear anywhere on the green character’s artwork.

Concept villain by Mark Taylor
Skeletor concept art, at the time called “D Man,” by Mark Taylor

This was the explanation given at the time by the brand manager (user name: Toyguru) on the He-Man.org forums:

So, the assumption was made that the green bearded character was an early Skeletor concept called Demo-Man, and that’s what was written into the bios, as a way of paying homage to it. It’s been a prevailing assumption ever since.

However, since 2016, we’ve known definitively that this character was not an early Skeletor concept. How do we know this? I went to the source himself:

Battle Ram Blog: There is a character you designed who fans refer to now as Demo-Man. Do you see him as an early incarnation of Skeletor or Beast Man?

Mark Taylor: No, he was a separate concept that I was too busy to exploit, I was working until the sun came up and the Mattel building was empty. I was pretty much running on fumes.  I would have loved to take him further but like so many concepts corporate profit came first.

I’ve included this information of course in the original interview, and in my old article about Skeletor. The interview with Mark also appeared in the Dark Horse Toys of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. So why point this out again in another article? For one, because the misconception about this character still exists in the fan community. But the other reason is, I love the design of Demo-Man, and this is a chance to talk about him a little.

Now, I should point out that although the character wasn’t initially named by Mark, he was given a name when he was released several years ago in a portfolio of sketches. The name Mark chose for him was “The Merciless.” He also recolored it with a darker color palette.

Image courtesy of Doug Feague

Because Demo-Man is the name fans know the character as, that’s the name I’ll continue to use in this article, but I just wanted to point out Mark’s name for him.

Demo-Man has only been released in MOTU once so far, in 2011 in the MOTU Classics line. The prototype figure was shown off at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con. The figure was a painstaking recreation of Mark Taylor’s drawing, up to and including the helmeted skull at the character’s feet and the tuft of hair sticking out from the character’s back. Below are images of the prototype that was displayed at San Diego Comic-Con (images are from ToyArk and Toy News International):

Because of Demo-Man’s association with Skeletor in the Classics bios, he also came with an extra Skeletor head, based on the character’s depiction by Alfredo Alcala. This head became the default head for many fans. I’ll just note that when modern designers want to make Skeletor look more scary, they’ll often give him “angry” eyes, an expression that really isn’t possible on a skull (skulls don’t have eyebrow muscles). The Alcala Skeletor head is noted as probably the creepiest and most impressive head for the figure ever made, and he has large, round eye sockets and oversized, crooked teeth. You don’t need to go the Spirit Halloween route to make a truly wicked-looking Skeletor.

Production Demo-Man, and Skeletor with “Alcala” head. Demo-Man does have “angry” eyes, but note that his face is only partially rotted away.
Original head (left) vs “Alcala” head (right)

The production Demo-Man figure (below) was a bit different from the prototype in a few different ways.

The copper accents were removed from both the flail weapon and the rivets on the skull’s helmet. Copper was also used as a rust analogue on all silver areas of the prototype, but it’s cut down a bit on the production figure, and doesn’t appear at all on the skull’s helmet. The spikes on the figure’s gauntlets and flail have been dulled down for safety. The overall skin color of Demo-Man is brighter as well – he is cast in a very bright yellowish color with plenty of green overspray. The bonus Alcala Skeletor head’s face also features these colors. The paint work on Demo-Man’s face isn’t quite as sharp as the prototype version, but of course that’s to be expected. No factory could match a finely hand-painted prototype.

Earlier I mentioned that lots of MOTU fans have their own head canon. I actually have one of my own regarding Skeletor and Demo-Man. I don’t follow the Classics idea of Demo-Man being an entity existing inside Skeletor. However, that story did inspire another take I thought of while looking at the two figures together.

In my little head canon, Eternia is a place full of incorporeal demons. Everyone knows that you have to quickly cremate your dead or protect them with a spell, otherwise a roaming demon will find it, take possession of the body, and walk around in it, causing mayhem. Skeletor arose this way, when a young warrior fell in battle, and his comrades could not recover the body because of the weight of his armor and the group of enemies pursuing them. The young fallen warrior laid dead on the battlefield for a time, his face eaten by scavengers. Eventually a powerful, ancient demon found him and took possession of him, and he became known as Skeletor. Demo-Man was a solitary wandering orc who met with a similar fate on the side of a mountain. Part of the point of this story is to explain the skull faces on these characters and also make them contemporaries of each other who could actually work together. This would put Demo-Man as one of Skeletor’s evil warriors, albeit at a higher level than his usual non-demonic flunkies.

Now, just because Demo-Man isn’t a Skeletor concept, doesn’t mean you can’t accept the Classics canon about his role in Skeletor’s origins. The fictional MOTU storylines are an altogether different subject from the history of the development of these toys. At the end of the day, you can think of him however you like, or discount him altogether. It’s up to you. But hopefully this article has been an informative and entertaining look at Demo-Man.

Thank you to the following individuals who are current Patreon supporters!

  • Ben M.
  • Matthias K.
  • Max I.
  • MotuOriginsCork
  • Orion W.
  • Philip O.
  • Robert B.
  • That Clyde Guy

Want to support the blog? Consider becoming a Patreon supporter. You’ll also gain access to exclusive content and early access to posts on the blog. Alternatively, you can do your toy shopping through my Entertainment Earth affiliate link, below. Thank you!

The MOTU Living Archive at Orko’s Keep

Also, if you have good scans of vintage MOTU books, comics, magazines and other print material, please consider sharing them with my buddy Ben Massa. Ben is building an archive of vintage MOTU material that he will share with fans, comparable to the old He-Man.org archives, but with higher resolution material. Learn more at this link.