Friday, March 30, 2018

Childhood Memories: Dino-Riders

Dinosaurs, extinct for 70 million years, are back!

I've spoken in the past about my childhood love of dinosaurs, and of one of the main 80s shows that really helped fuel that along, in the form of 1987's Dinosaucers. That show, which played during my First Grade school year, was in an hour block along with a goofier cartoon called Denver, The Last Dinosaur, and at 6 or 7 years old, I absolutely ate them up. Now, Dinosaucers was supposed to have an accompanying toy-line, and prototypes were even created, but because the show was cancelled after one syndicated (65 episode) season, they also cancelled the toy line, which I think was foolish.

 But in 1988, there was another dinosaur-based animated series that came along, which was designed specifically to SELL toys, and thus while it too had only one short (14 episode) season, to some kids of that era, it is still kinda legendary.

This is the one set I KNOW I had.

The cartoon was called Dino-Riders, and it was co-developed by the Tyco toy company, and Marvel Entertainment, the animation wing of Marvel Comics. They developed the cartoon series, a full and robust toyline, and various other merchandise. It didn't last very long, sadly, but it was a blitzkrieg while it was happening.

I don't fully remember anymore, which toys I had, even though I know I didn't have many. I know for a FACT that I had the set shown above, which is a Pteranodon, and his Rulon rider, Rasp. I also know that I had one of the good guys, the Valorians, the youngest named Llahd, who came with a little hang-glider like aparatus, which also hung off of a flying dinosaur. I don't remember whether or not I had two separate dinosaur toys, or if Llahd came by himself (which doesn't make sense with his gear), or they BOTH came with the one dino and you could switch them out?

The cool and most memorable thing about this particular dino toy, is that it has a button on its back, which when pressed, cause its wings to flap as if it's flying. To a little kid, in the late 80s, that was pretty damn hi-tech!

The ORIGINAL cool-toed Dino.

I'd like to take the time to point out that back as a kid, several years BEFORE everyone and their pet dog became enamored with the Velociraptor, thanks to the 1993 mega-hit film Jurassic Park, I was a big fan of the guy shown above. He is a bigger cousin to the regular raptor (the ones shown in the JP film were actually "Utahraptors", V-Raps are small), known as Deinonychus. And I thought he was bad ass. Sadly, I never owned THIS toy of him, but I DID have A Deinonychus toy of some fashion, I'm sure. There is some scrap of my memory that almost thinks maybe I DID own this guy, but I can't back that up.

But that was one genuinely cool thing about the series, beyond the fact that it was basically G.I. Joe with dinosaurs. Dino-mania was alive and well in the late 80s, in no small part thanks to the amazing Don Bluth masterpiece, the 1988 animated theatrical film Land Before Time. I know I loved it, hell I had a goddamn Pizza Hut birthday party themed after it (they were promoting it at the time). But while it's a classic and bad ass movie, one small negative it did bring to the culture back then, though somewhat harmless, was the film's in-world names that the types of dinosaurs had for each other. For instance, Triceratops were known as "Three Horns", and Brontosaurus were known as "Long Necks", and T-Rex was called a "Sharptooth".

With Dino-Riders, as you can plainly see, they called the dinosaurs by their paleontological names, even when they were big words for kids, like Saurolophus, or Pteranodon, or Monoclonius, or Deinonychus. Each toy, of course, was paired with a rider, either evil Rulons, or the benevolent (and eponymous) Dino-Riders.

The ongoing war.

Taking a step back, the plot of the toy-line and cartoon/comics/etc., is set in the far future, where a peaceful race of humans has been living on the planet Valoria, minding their own business, when along comes the conquering alien conglomerate known as the Rulons, and their leader, Emperor Krulos (shown above). The Rulons are made up of a bunch of different alien races, like snake people, sharkish people, insect people, etc. Krulos himself, while never made explicitly clear, seems to be some kind of frog-type thing.

As a group of Valorians are on the run from Krulos, who desires their "Space Time Energy Projector" crystal (STEP Crystal for short), they are forced to use the STEP to try and escape. But the Rulons are sucked through the portal after them, and they both wind up crash-landing, stranded, far back in time, on prehistoric Earth.

The basic dichotomy of the show, is that BOTH groups make use of various dinosaurs (who appear mish-mashed from various prehistoric periods), but their tactics differ. For the Dino-Riders, they utilize these necklace pendants they all wear, "Amplified Mental Projectors" (AMPs), to communicate with the beasts via ESP. In other words, they convince the dinos to work with them, by basically asking them to, nicely. For the evil Rulons, of course, they are not nearly so nice, so instead of asking nicely, they use what are called "Brain Boxes", harnesses that bend the dinos to their will, basically making slaves of them.

Rasp and Hammerhead.

The cartoon series essentially depicts the ongoing conflict of these two groups, as they try to survive in this hostile prehistoric environment. Every single episode, just about, features Krulos and his army trying to attack the Valorian camp, because he wants that damn STEP crystal, so he can use it to get back to the future, and back to taking over the universe. In true 80s fashion, every episode also shows the bad guys messing up somehow, and losing the battle, turning tail and vowing to return. One reason this show is most definitely a G.I. Joe type of affair, is because in these battles, folks are shooting lasers all OVER the place at each other, all the time, but they rarely ever hit each other.

Always so angry.

Krulos himself was voiced by the great Frank Welker, doing basically the exact Dr. Claw voice from Inspector Gadget. Several of his primary minions are pretty memorable too. He has groups of Vipers and Sharks and whatever, but each has a general, and some of these, as shown above, are Rasp and Hammerhead, who are of course always vying for Krulos' favor, and to become the #2 guy. There is also the calmer Krok, a crocodile guy, who also quietly guns to be top dog, though more through hard work than grandstanding like the other two. There are others as well, such as Antor, the kinda-sorta-ant-guy, Lokus, another bug guy, and Skate who is a...starfish man? I never quite figured that out.

Da Good Guys.

The heroes also have some memorable characters, though of course by virtue of not being crazy-looking alien animal dudes, not AS memorable. There's the leader, Questar, the young and brash Yungstar (get it?), the kid Llahd, the psychic healer lady Serena, the grizzled military veteran Gunner, and the oldest of the bunch, the blind but powerful psychic (and bad ass martial artist), Serena's grandfather Mind Zei (GET IT!?). There were a lot of other characters, mainly to sell more toys, but seeing as I only had Rasp and Llahd (I think), as a kid, there isn't much point going over the rest.

Dino-Riders, the Coloring Book!

One thing I DID have, was this exact coloring book, which at the time I treasured. The truth is, for whatever reasons, I didn't actually get to see much of the show itself. I may have seen an episode or two here or there, but in general I kinda missed out on most of it. But this handy-dandy coloring book not only helped me sharpen my artistic skills (such as they are), but it also actually did a pretty nifty job of telling the story of the show, so I got to know what was going on, and who was who, anyway! That's Questar up there, riding with his trusty Styracosaurus, though in the cartoon, he was often riding atop the mighty battle-station they built on a huge Brontosaurus (or Apatosaurus if you're so inclined).

Fun fact, but there was a period in my early teens, where I very seriously wanted to be a comic book artist, or more specifically, a colorist (because I've never had the patience to be as good at drawing as I would prefer to be). And part of that probably started because of THIS specific coloring book. I had other coloring books, yes, but this one held my attention the most, and I tried super hard to color in those pictures well. I actually had a nice set of like 30 something crayons, including some fancy colors, and that later graduated to having a really cool (though not NEARLY big enough for my tastes) colored pencil set, with even MORE colors. I'm pretty big on colors. I would 100% be down with having a massive colored pencil set (like the biggest you can get), and just doing elaborate coloring books. But I digress.

The short-lived Marvel comic.

All in all, the series was fairly short-lived. They had 14 episodes, one season, that lasted from October 1st to December 31st 1988. But out of that, they managed not one, but FOUR series of toys. I'm not sure how long the toys kept coming up, but still, they squeezed this franchise for all it was worth. I'm honestly surprised it didn't at least get a second season.

To me, as a kid, the Dinosaucers were a much bigger deal to me. Of course, that was largely because I actually got to WATCH a lot of that cartoon, whereas I barely saw this one. But I think it was also because it had such memorable characters, and while the concept of living and working with dinosaurs like the Dino-Riders do is cool, there was something MORE cool to me about having anthropomorphic dino-people, who I was secret friends with, and helped them fight evil (and hilarious) dino-people.

Having said that though, the Dino-Riders concept is still a really cool one, and I did really treasure the few toys of them I DID have. Looking at pictures of that Deinonychus toy, as stated, part of me ALMOST feels like maybe I did actually own it. But regardless, the one I REALLY wanted, was also the one too expensive to ever get, and that was the huge Tyronosaurus Rex that Krulos rode around. I would have just about shit if I had been able to own that as a kid, but alas, we were fairly poor.

Until next time, celebrate all things old and awesome!