Joe Phat is an avatar character, much like Kevin Matchstick
. We never really learn his origins. He is the avatar of multiple Native American characters/identities, such as the Coyote and Raven, all of which are associated with being a wise trickster.
Matt Wagner created the Joe Phat character to serve as a companion and a foil for Kevin Matchstick in his series, Mage: The Hero Defined
. Joe Phat is loosely based on real life comic book creator Joe Matt
Joe first meets Kevin in the Grand Canyon, where they battle an ogre-wight. Joe entraps it with a pile of magic beans and Kevin destroys it. They immediately bond and become companions, traveling in Kevin's Edsel and hunting nasties. They move from town to town. Whenever they get to a new place, Joe sniffs out the "nasties" with his nose, then they destroy them. Together, they have a good combination of strength and speed, courage and cleverness.
We next see them hunting a bridge troll. Joe dresses up like a homeless person and makes himself a target. When the troll attacks, they destroy it. Then they get some of Kevin's magic money, get something to eat (an important part of the day for Joe), and move on. Joe always adds a measure of humorous conversation to their days.
The next nasties they find are a group of harpies that have taken an old man as their slave. Just as Kevin and Joe are about to figure out a plan, Kirby Hero
comes up and attacks the harpies. He and Kevin defeat them, while Joe tends to the old man, healing his wounds. The old man, Wally Ut
, claims to be Kevin's second mage, but the three heroes don't believe him, and drive off.
Kevin and Kirby often get into arguments with each other over Kevin's attempts to be the leader of the avatars, but Joe tends to stay out of these conversations, much preferring to talk about Gilligan's Island
. He often stands off to one side, whistling. His fighting abilities also pale compared to the other two, so once Kirby joins them, Joe tends to take more of a background role in fights, working more as a scout.
Joe soon notices that he can't smell any more nasties. They all seem to be converging towards one location to the north. Wally Ut, who keeps following them, also tells them that is the way to go. As Kirby and Kevin hang out, Joe runs all over the state, but can't find anything. They visit Isis
, a witch, to find out what's going on. She gives them all a magic drug, and they share a vision of a giant monster on a mountain. This seems to be what's behind the congregation of nasties. The house is then attacked by the Sprigginflints
, and the heroes all fight back. Joe runs around getting them to smash into each other, but ends up running into a telephone pole when he's not looking. Finally they get them to retreat.
Joe and Kevin go north to Montreal while Kirby tries to find his next labor. While Kirby comes and goes several times, Joe always stays by Kevin's side. Joe can finally smell the nasties again. They confront a basilisk, but it gets away. Next they find several gargoyles. Joe takes more of an active role in this fight, using his magic harmonica and bottle of soda to defeat two gargoyles. They meet up with Kirby again, and then with the Monkey King, who tells them that not only are the nasties all coming to town, so are the other avatars
. They decide to try to all meet together. Then Kirby takes them to Mount Royal, a huge hill in the middle of Montreal with a giant cross on it. They all recognize it as the mountain from their vision.
Joe looks for the basilisk some more, but can't find him. Suddenly, the Dragonslayer
, a famous avatar, shows up and challenges Kevin to combat. The heroes have been hearing of stuff like this: heroes who stop caring about the struggle and fight amongst themselves for kicks and fame. Joe doesn't want him to fight, and Kevin agrees, but then the Dragonslayer sucker-punches him and Kevin feels like he has to do it. He wins, just barely, using the Bat
. But the Bat is only supposed to be used in the struggle, and it burns Kevin's hands. Joe heals them a little, but they still hurt, and Kevin has to wear gloves from then on. It should be noted that sometimes Joe holds the bag with the Bat for Kevin, acting somewhat like his squire.
The heroes go to meet up with all the other avatars, and Kevin argues that they need to all work together to figure out what's going on, but he finds only mediocre support. Then Kirby's sister shows up and gives him his next labor, so he leaves. It's back to just Kevin and Joe, and they are feeling kind of alone in the struggle when suddenly Wally Ut shows up. Wally almost gets hit by a car while he's pontificating to Kevin, but Joe saves him. Kevin and Wally argue, and once again Joe stays out of it. They are attacked by wisp-wraiths, and with the Hornblower
's aid, defeat them.
Wally is now staying with Joe and Kevin. Joe thinks Wally is disgusting (he bites his toenails and pees in the sink), but is starting to believe that maybe he is the mage after all. This is one of the first times Joe says something that Kevin disagrees with. Suddenly Joe hears Garth's horn and realizes he's under attack. Joe runs up and helps him while Kevin gets there more slowly on a bicycle. Garth is under attack by a large group of Redcaps. Joe takes out a number of them at super speed, and Kevin kills a number as well, but they are unfortunately able to kill Garth. Kevin feels terrible because he's the one who sent Garth to check out this location. They interrogate a Redcap and find out that the person behind all this is called the Pale Incanter
They are joined by Isis and her sisters Ishtar and Magda
, who plan to use their magic to find out more about the plans of the forces of darkness. While Kevin is immediately enchanted (magically or naturally) by Magda, Joe seems interested in Ishtar. However, Joe seems concerned with the degree that Kevin has fallen for Magda--it seems somewhat unnatural. Joe goes running around town, looking for nasties, when he sees Ishtar again. She comes up and kisses him. However, it isn't really Ishtar, it's a Leanhaun Sidhe
, and she magically seduces him and puts him under her control. He can still go out and about, but now he is under her spell.
Kevin doesn't pay attention to Joe's listlessness, partly because of his own intense affair with Magda. Wally, however, realizes what's going on and banishes the succubus from Joe's room. Then he tells Kirby they need help. Joe helps out in a battle against the Sprigginflints, saving a small faerie called a bogart, but his mind isn't in the fight, and he eventually leaves, complaining of a headache. The Leanhaun Sidhe finds him walking about and draws him down into her lair. Magda sees her, and tells Kevin. Kevin and Kirby join back up, and with the help of the Presbyter
, invade Emil's faerie kingdom. They find him caught in the Leanhaun Sidhe's webs. The bogart Joe saved earlier gives them a hint--the succubus can't pass by the chance to count small items. Kirby throws a bunch of pebbles in front of her, and they defeat her while she is distracted counting. They pull Joe down and see that his hair has turned white from the experience--just as Mirth's did from being in the computer system in The Hero Discovered
. Kevin has to give him a jolt from the Bat to fully wake him up, after which he feels much better.
Joe fixes Kirby's glasses, which were broken earlier. Then they move on into the kingdom. They find a group of Redcaps
about to sacrifice someone. Joe is back in top form and takes out a bunch of Redcaps at super speed, and the others fight as well. It turns out the intended sacrificial victim is Wally Ut. He begins to lead them on, but Kevin doesn't want to follow him. However, as they continue, Joe and Kirby become greater believers in Wally, based on his increasingly impressive magical feats. Kevin, however, still doesn't believe, and the tension between the three of them increases. When they end up having a discussion of magic, the others are surprised to hear Kevin say that magic is green: Kirby says that it's red, Wally says that it's purple, and for Joe, it's blue like the sea and sky. Kevin can't stand to be contradicted on what is, to him, such a bedrock belief.
Finally they come to an arena where Emil and his golem, the Man-Mountain of Dzoxk
, are waiting for them. Since the Man-Mountain has a horned helmet, Kirby believes that beating him is his next labor (to kill a bull). But Kevin insists on fighting him as well. The golem is too big for Joe to fight, but he takes on the Sprigginflints, leading them to Kevin for him to finish them off. Kirby and Kevin keep arguing about who gets to destroy the golem, and when Kirby is distracted, the Man-Mountain stabs him, mortally wounding him. Kevin destroys the golem in a fury. Joe tries to heal Kirby, but his durability even keeps Joe's powers from affecting him. Joe says they have to let him go. Kevin panics and when Joe tries to calm him down, Kevin strikes him. Kevin revives Kirby, but destroys Excalibur in the process,
Wally wakes Kirby up, but when Kirby sees that Kevin destroyed the bull, meaning that he won't get credit for his labor, he loses it. He is furious that Kevin insists on everyone fighting for his cause, but doesn't put any stock in other's causes, and he storms off. Joe leaves with Kirby. He stood by Kevin's side more than anyone, but he couldn't accept the fact that Kevin hit him.
Powers and Abilities
As the current avatar of Coyote the trickster, Joe has the ability to smell creatures that are infected by darkness or bad magic. He also seems to have slightly superhuman hearing, as he was able to hear Garth's horn when Kevin couldn't. Essentially, he seems to be able to sense magic from a distance, one way or another.
He is super fast and incredibly dexterous. The upper limit of his speed is not spelled out, but is at least several hundred miles per hour: he is often shown appearing all of a sudden from nowhere. He is capable of running down nearly vertical surfaces and not falling. He is fast enough that when a troll threw a chain at him, he was able to jump out of his clothes so fast that they were still in midair when they were hit by the chain. He can also uses his speed on only one part of his body. For instance he can simultaneously kick multiple attackers at high speeds.
He has the power to mend things, from minor wounds to a broken pair of glasses. Major destruction, such as the flattening of their Edsel or Kirby Hero's mortal wounds, are too much for him. He is also incapable of healing poisons.
He has several magic objects that he has picked up over time, including magic beans that create an enveloping growth of giant vines, a harmonica that can entrap and banish evil creatures, and a bottle of "Nasty Stuff" soda whose bubbling carbonation can also destroy "nasties."
He seems to intuitively understand other languages: he can understand what a Redcap is saying when Kevin can't, even though he had never seen Redcaps before.
It is often mentioned that he is afraid of giants, although this never really comes into play whenever they actually do meet a giant.