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Johnny Turbo is a fictional superhero character created to advertise the Turbo Duo, a hybrid of the Turbografx-16 console and its add-on, the TurboGrafx CD, in North America. The character was conceived by Turbo Technologies Inc. (a venture of NEC and Hudson Soft) as a mascot of the console.
Previously, NEC used Bonk (who debuted in the game Bonk's Adventure) as the TG-16's original mascot. Later, continuing this theme, TTi would adopt Air Zonk (a cyborg-Bonk who starred in horizontal shooters Air Zonk and Super Air Zonk) as the mascot for TurboDuo. Air Zonk was featured on the TurboDuo console packaging, appeared in countless advertisements, all brochures and catalogs, trade show appearances (i.e. the Consumer Electronics Show), etc., until he was eventually phased out in favor of Johnny Turbo.
Unlike Bonk or Zonk, Johnny Turbo never starred in any games. Instead, his only appearances were in three comic book-like advertisements published in gaming magazines of the day, such as Video Games & Computer Entertainment and Electronic Gaming Monthly.
Johnny Turbo and his partner Tony were pitted against monsters or androids from a company called "FEKA" (a thinly veiled parody of Sega), which, in the comics, mislead children into wasting their money by claiming that its CD system could work by itself. In reality, Sega never made such a claim with their real-life console, which was always marketed as an add-on to the Genesis. Ironically, NEC itself had previously sold the TurboGrafx CD add-on, which, like the Sega CD, could not function alone. The advertising campaign failed; in 1992, when the comics appeared, the TurboDuo system, competing against the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo Entertainment System, was already a distant third in the market.
Johnny Turbo is the alter-ego of Jonathan Brandstetter, who is based on a real life game developer, John C. Brandstetter. Tony, the sidekick of Johnny Turbo, is based on Tony Ancona.
Three issues were published in Electronic Gaming Monthly (and possibly other video game publications). Each issue consisted of four, full-color pages. The issues were numbered 43 through 45.
The first issue (#43), "The Master Plan!," opens with Mr. FEKA and some sinister-looking FEKA agents discussing the company's master plan: to convince children their system is the only CD console available. "Computer expert" John Brandstetter learns of this, and, as Johnny Turbo, confronts FEKA agents selling their console on the streets. He says the Turbo CD was the first to market, says that FEKA have CD games of which already appeared on the Turbo CD, defeats the FEKA agents and reveals them to be "not even human" (the FEKA minions have glowing red eyes).
The second issue (#44), "Let 'em Dangle!!," opens with Mr. FEKA assuring his underlings that they can get rich as long as kids are convinced the FEKA CD is a complete system. Johnny Turbo, coming fresh from a comparison between the TurboDuo's pack-in software (Gate of Thunder) and the FEKA's (a game which "doesn't even compare" -- Sol-Feace), interrupts a FEKA sale at a local toy store, reveals the truth about the FEKA system, and promises that Mr. FEKA can't hide from him. Observing from a control room, Mr. FEKA decides it's time to teach Johnny Turbo a lesson. Johnny Turbo appears at the end of the issue to pitch the "CD shooter" Lords of Thunder (The screenshot shown is in fact from Gate of Thunder).
The surrealistic third issue (#45), "Sleepwalker," opens with Tony heading to bed, and in his dream he hears Johnny Turbo's voice, telling him about Gate of Thunder and Lords of Thunder, and telling him a code to access Bomberman on a three-in-one disc.
Jonathan J. Burtenshaw, who wrote an essay appearing in the Classic Gaming section of the Gamespy website, described the advertising campaign as seeming "petty" and "overly confrontational." Burtenshaw believed that the campaign contributed to the demise of the gaming system.