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:


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:


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.


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!

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Box Art From A-Z, Part Six: 1987

One of the best things about getting new He-Man toys as a kid was the box art. The toys were of course amazing and fun, but personally I spent almost as much time staring at the boxes as playing with the toys. I remember being pretty heartbroken when my mother made me throw away my Castle Grayskull and Battle Ram boxes. She saw them as clutter, but for me they were almost stories in and of themselves. You could see whole adventures unfolding in a single painted scene.

Unfortunately, good photographs or scans of the original art are not available for every piece. If you happen to have a nicer images than I do (higher resolution, better composition, etc), please do feel free to share, and I’ll make an update! For pictures of the packaging itself, a neutral (white or black) background is preferred. High resolution scans of the artwork, where it appears without logos, would be ideal. Bottom line – if you have better images than I do, please share them!

One final note: I’m defining box art as the front-facing painted artwork that appeared on boxed Masters of the Universe toys. The illustrations on blister card packaging, then, are outside the scope of this series.

Part Six: 1987

Name: Beam-Blaster & Artilleray
Year: 1987
Artist: William George
Description: In a shadowy desert scene, He-Man uses the Beam-Blaster to “blast” Hordak from his position on the Artilleray vehicle.

Name: Bionatops
Year: 1987
Artist: Warren Hile
Description: He-Man charges into battle atop the mighty Bionatops.

Name: Cliff Climber Power Gear
Year: 1987
Artist: William George
Description: Man-At-Arms scales a rocky cliff face with the Roto-Drill attachment at the ready; He-Man uses the Cliff Climber’s chest crawler feature to zoom down the mountain as Skeletor loses his footing. An enormous moon illuminates a range of pointed rock formations in the background.

Name: Gyrattacker (unproduced)
Year: 1987
Artist: William George
Description: Rotar launches the attack module (piloted by He-Man) at Twistoid. He-Man zooms off into the crater-filled desert landscape.

Image source: Pixel Dan
Image Source: Grayskull Museum

Name: Scubattack Power Gear
Year: 1987
Artist: William George
Description: Skeletor explores the murky depths of an Eternian ocean using the Scubattack. In a separate scene, Faker and Clamp Champ, both equipped with Scubattacks, engage in underwater combat as a vicious-looking eel looks on.

Name: Tower Tools Power Gear
Year: 1987
Artist: William George
Description: He-Man scales castle walls using Power Tools, as Prince Adam and Clamp Champ battle Ninjor far below. Sy-Klone and Terror Claws Skeletor battle on upper levels of the castle using Tower Tools circular saw attachments.

Name: Turbodactyl
Year: 1987
Artist: Warren Hile
Description: Turbodactyl, guided be He-Ro (unproduced), catches King Hiss in his claws. Several other Turbodactyls soar above a rocky cliff face.

Name: Tyrantisaurus Rex
Year: 1987
Artist: Warren Hile
Description: King Hiss launches a Dyna-Drone from the mighty Tyrantisaurus Rex.

Image source: The Art of He-Man

More in this series:


Martin Arriola: Guardian of Grayskull

Martin Arriola was a designer on the original Masters of the Universe toyline. He went on to work on the  1989 New Adventures of He-Man reboot, the 2009 adult collector Masters of the Universe Classics toyline, and many other lines for Mattel. He graciously agreed to sit down and talk to me about his work.

Battle Ram: Thanks for agreeing to this interview! So, how did you get into the toy design business?

Martin Arriola: My dad was a carpenter, I always watched him work. He was good at what he did.  I was always drawing – I was terrible at math, and I didn’t like hard work, so I wanted to see if I could make it in the field of commercial art.

Everyone keeps telling you it’s very competitive. But if you never try you never know. I went to trade school for two years. I went to UCLA, then I started attending Art Center College of Design.  I started at Art Center at night, and one of my instructors told me to come full time.

I went from there in 1980 and freelanced for a couple of years. Then I got a call from head hunters. One was from Mattel, offering a job that paid $33,000, which was decent money in the ’80s. Another was a call for startup newspaper. These guys saw some of my illustrations (I graduated as an illustration major). They wanted to hire me as director, for same amount of money Mattel was offering. They were based in Washington DC, and Mattel was in California. In the end I wanted to stay in California, so I went with Mattel. It turned out that paper was USA Today.  I stayed at Mattel for 32 years.

BR: What did you start working on when you were hired at Mattel?

MA: I started on Hot Wheels stuff. They didn’t have toy major designs back then. Seventy percent of their designers came from the Art Center. I didn’t know a label sheet from an overspray, but I could draw. There were no computers at the time, no Photoshop. Mark Taylor was great at markers. I was a marker freak – that’s what got me the job.

Ted Mayer was still there when I was there. I was hired to replace Mark Taylor, at least that’s what I had heard. That was back in 1982.

I remember rendering a bunch of vehicles. I did a bunch of renderings for Hot Wheels. I learned everything there at Mattel.

When I first got there the designers were over-worked, but it was also lax, it was so much more fun. Mark Taylor had just left to go to Playmates… I almost quit under Roger Sweet. I came close to quitting. The credit stealing was awful.

Anyway, there was a big paradigm shift. I know Ted and Taylor were part of visual design. I started as an art director in Visual Design. Shel Plat asked if I wanted to work on products or packaging. I thought products would be more fun. A lot more goes into it, although you have to deal with engineers.

BR: When was this?

MA: I think I started in 1983 on He-Man. One of the first things I worked on was the figure with the rotating drum, Battle Armor He-Man. We did same thing with Skeletor, same feature.

I may have done Screeech and Zoar. I don’t know what came first. I started out picking the colors. Zoar was the Big Jim Eagle, and Battle Cat was also from Big Jim. He-Man’s Battle Cat was already done. I worked on the other cat, Panthor. I picked the colors. There was a lot of refresh back then.

Zoar & Screeech
Panthor & Battle Cat

BR: Who were you working with?

MA: Colin Bailey was one. He could draw anything, this guy was awesome. I said to myself, I gotta draw like him. I watched him do Fisto, Buzz-Off. He did the original Stridor. I think I picked colors on Night Stalker. I got more familiar with the line,  and I started doing a lot more as far as art directing and sculpting.

BR: Was  it a challenge get a good design through engineering?

MA: It’s totally different now. Everything goes to Hong Kong. Design now has a big role, as opposed to what it used to be. In 1982, designers never went to Hong Kong. Engineering was the big division then. They traveled everywhere. It wasn’t vendors, it was captive plants. We did tooling inside, and there were all these divisions in Mattel that no longer exist. Design got bigger and bigger and more powerful.

Prelim, guys like Rogers Sweet would always over-promise to marketing, and sometimes add stuff that was unsafe or not practical.

BR: Oh, like what?

MA: There was Dragon Blaster Skeletor. Prelim design came up with breadboard model. It was unpainted, using old legs and arms and a body sculpted from square styrene blocks. Sweet was touting this one, Smoke and Chains Skeletor, it was called. It had a bellows on its back. You would load the bellows with talcum powder, and there was a pipe going from a cavity to the figure’s right hand. Talcum powder would come out like smoke. The figure was draped with chains, so the working name was Smoke and Chains Skeletor.

Image via Tomart’s Action Figure Digest, issue 202

I was thinking about doing the final design. Around that same time there was a big grain factory in Texas that exploded. It killed a lot of people, so it made big news back then. Everyone smoked back then.

I said, wow, this has powder. I lit a match and squeezed the bellows. A four foot flame came out of Skeletor! Luckily I hadn’t pointed it at anybody. I remember going to the VP of Design, Gene Kilroy. I had Smoke and Chains Skeletor and a lighter. I just happened to come across the greatest TV moment. I lit the thing and a big old flame came out it.

BR: That’s insane!

MA: When safety got a hold of this, obviously it couldn’t be released. We tried diluting the powder with baking soda, but then it didn’t look like smoke anymore.

So we brainstormed, me and Tony Rhodes. We didn’t do much with water squirting at the time. We had a big brainstorm, and thought, what about squirting water? So we ended up sculpting the dragon on the back of Skeletor, and being able to load that up with water.

Image source: 1985 Mattel Dealer Catalog, scanned by Orange Slime

There was a lot of trial and error stuff like that. We had to change because prelim would promise that this was going to be the feature, and get it for this much. They would always say it was cheaper than it was going to be. They would say it can’t do this and can’t do that. We were always having to make sure it was safe, affordable and that it would actually work.

BR: Do you know who designed Clawful?

MA: Colin Bailey did Clawful, he was one of the first designers to work on the vintage He-Man line. By then Taylor had already left to do Ninja Turtles with Playmates.

BR: What were the figures you primarily worked on?

MA: Just about all of them, to be honest with you.  I did all the Secret Wars figures as well. I actually became a manager of the (He-Man) line, but they didn’t give me the title. I managed the line from Screeech and the drum rotating guy, until the line got dropped. They over shipped the line to make the numbers, and that’s what killed it.

I hired Dave Wolfram and had some temps working for me too. Basically from Screeech until the end. The dinosaurs, I worked on those as well. I hired a couple of guys. I had to approve everything. I’m not taking credit for that, that’s not what I do. From then until New Adventures. I worked on all that stuff too.

New Adventures He-Man concept, by Martin Arriola (image via The Art of He-Man)

It was not like it is now, I retired on my own time, the politics got so bad. I worked on Disney-Pixar cars stuff. I made a billion dollars for that company.

BR: Do you know who designed Stinkor and Moss Man?

MA: Those were refreshes like Scare Glow and Ninjor. I also worked on Land Shark and Laser Bolt, that was kind of a challenge. I worked on Stinkor, Moss Man, and Ninjor.  Clamp Champ, too. If you look at those, its all existing parts. We tried to save as much money as we could. Whenever we could refresh, we’d do a refresh.

BR: Right, like Faker. Did you work on that figure?

MA: I did label sheets for Faker’s chest, it looked like a reel-to-reel tape deck. On [Sy-Klone], I came up with lenticular lens. We reused the idea for Secret Wars. Sometimes you get lucky.

BR: What about Snake Mountain?

MA: Snake Mountain, I wish I had one now. Eddy [Mosqueda] sculpted it*. Eddy was really really fast. The guy who sculpted [Eternia] was really, really slow.

Snake Mountain. Image via Orange Slime

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.

Now it’s different. You do a front three-quarters sketch, send it to Hong Kong, and you see a digital output.

BR: Do you know anything about a brown-haired He-Man variant? People seem to think that you could get it in a mail-away offer. What many people recall is that you would send  in three proofs of purchase and you would get a free figure in the mail, but no one seems to know much about it or why it was made in the first place. It looked like this:

Image courtesy of Arkangel

MA: The brown haired variant was either just done or in the works when I got there, but I think you’re right. Has it been referred to as The Wonder Bread mail-in offer? Again, I just got there and was just trying to keep my head above water, keeping up with great talents like Colin Bailey who drew like an angel with so much ease.

BR: Do you know who designed Jitsu?

MA: I watched Colin draw control art turn views of Jitsu as reference for sculpting.

BR: Besides Rudy Obrero and Bill George, there was another person who painted some of the box art. We don’t know his name, but he did the box art for Point Dread & Talon Fighter, Panthor, Skeletor/Panthor Gift Set, Teela/Zoar Gift Set, Night Stalker, and a few others. Any clues there? Here’s an example of his/her art:

MA: Unfortunately I can’t remember that guy’s name, but his stuff was pretty decent as a fill-in when Bill [George] was overbooked. His art was better than the guy who did the dino art, Warren Hile, who I went to Art Center with. He now makes furniture in Pasadena. I looked up his art in the SDCC He-Man book that I designed, which sold out in a day, but no names are listed. I’ll find out because now it’s bugging me, thanks to you.

BR: What about Tony Guerrero? Do you remember him?

MA: Tony Sculpted THE He-Man. He had a twin brother, Ben. He was on the engineering side and Tony was a sculptor. One of guards once asked Tony for a property pass and offended him. He said, “Do you know who I am, I sculpted He-Man!”

Tony Guerrero’s He-Man prototype. Image source: The Art of He-Man/The Power and the Honor Foundation

Tony didn’t do a lot of the later stuff. I don’t know if he got let go. I can’t tell you how many purgings I survived there. They didn’t care how good you were, or what you contributed. It was how much money you made. They would bring a new guy in that they could pay less and force you out.

Tony and Colin left shortly after I got there. Colin was there for a couple of years.

Bill George did the best art. He was at Power Con, the very first one. Bill’s paintings were the best. He did the best He-Man ever.

Road Ripper, by William George

BR: By 1986, there seemed to be a lot more stylistic diversity in the line. Can you talk about that?

MA: Extendar was designed by John Hollis, he was a temp who reported to me. He did Extendar, and he also did Rattlor and Turbodactyl. Each one has own style. Pat Dunn worked on Mosquitor. They way they turned out depended on they designer’s style and the action feature and play feature. The hardest one I worked on was Sorceress. Her wings popped out on back pack. Roger Sweet promised all those things. It’s hard to pack a mechanism on a thin-looking body. There was no other way I could do it except to put hump on her back.

We did Turbosaurus [later, Gigantisaur] that never got made. Too impractical? Of course. Roger Sweet had a sketch done by Ed Watts. It showed He-Man on this dinosaur. He sold it with all these features at a price that was low. I said, do you know how big this is going to be?

I went to Dave Wolfram, and I said, “We gotta breadboard this stuff.” Sure enough, that dinosaur was probably three feet. I told marketing, if you want this to reflect what Sweet sold you in the B-sheet, this is how big it’s going to be. We hand painted it. One thing that Sweet sold to marketing is that it would swallow a He-Man figure. But you know how splayed out the he-man figures were. It would have been as big as Eternia.

Ed Watts was the best and he actually did some preliminary designing and B-sheets on many of the vintage Masters toys, including Land Shark, the dinos, and Skeletor’s Dragon Fly [Fright Fighter], just to name a few. He actually had talent and thus recognized others who had talent, and was not insecure or jealous of others, so that’s why we got along. He was my manager when I designed/developed all the Bug’s Life line. Unfortunately he died of brain cancer way too young.

BR: What else did you work on in your time at Mattel?

MA: Everything that failed, I didn’t do, like that 2002 series… I was already off the line at that time. I worked on Harry Potter. I remember it was the Four Horsemen that were sculpting it. They were going old school, with clay molds and final waxes. Those guys are awesome. We were going to do Spawn at that time, and then anime stuff came up. I think I was working on Killer Tomatoes and Hook when we left the old building. Anyway, the Four Horsemen went in and did a really great sculpt of He-Man and Skeletor, almost two feet high. But at that time anime was coming in. So when they approached the Four Horsemen they had them sculpt them anime style as well. On that version, He-Man’s neck is coming out of his chest. Mattel did a focus test (which I hate), and the kids picked the anime style.

Then I got put back on He-Man, and started working with the Horsemen on [Masters of the Universe Classics], with no features. So there was this weird roundabout way I came back and worked on He-Man with the Horsemen, which they then gave to Terry Higuchi, because I was pulled to work on Remi from Ratatouille. Terri did a great job.

Masters of the Universe Classics

BR: What figure or other toy are you most proud of in your time at Mattel?

MA: I did so many entire lines there in 32 years. It would seem like bragging if I listed them all, which were approximately 15 to 20. Several never made it to retail. In hindsight I guess my favorites were the vintage MOTU line; resurrecting the then-dead Disney-Pixar Cars Line and generating a billion dollars for the five years I had it before my jealous VP stole it from me; and the Disney-Pixar Ratatouille line, which I designed/developed single-handily with my Hong Kong counterparts.

I’m especially proud that all those toys I designed/brought to retail made kids happy and filled their lives with joy & imaginative play. I’m happily retired now, focusing on painting full time. You can check out my original art on my website, www.martinarriola.com.

To hear more from Martin, check out these Power Con panels:

Several pieces of cross sell art used in this article are courtesy of Axel Giménez.

*Note: Eric L. recently contacted Eddy Mosqueda, and confirmed that Eddy did not actually sculpt Snake Mountain.

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