Dog Man is a series of ridiculous children’s graphic novels by Dav Pilkey, creator of Captain Underpants, about a half-man, half-dog creature who is also a terrible police officer. He was formed when a cop and a police dog were in a car accident, and neither could survive without radical dog-head/human-body transplant surgery. However, I came here to tell you that the true protagonist of Dog Man is a cat.
At first, Petey is just the latest in a long line of miscreant anthropomorphic cartoon orange tabby cats, albeit one with a penchant for building huge, elaborate robots that help him do crimes. He is usually foiled by a combination of Dog Man’s dumb luck and his own hubris. In the third book, Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties, Petey escapes from jail and makes a clone of himself, intending for said clone to do his grunt work while he focuses on the bigger picture of doing crimes/revenge against Dog Man. However, the clone comes out as a baby, and Petey himself is now the reluctant parent of a preternaturally upbeat kitten.
Over the course of five books, we see Petey struggle with his attachment to Li’l Petey and his desire to be rid of the goody-goody kitten, as well as engage in an internal tug-of-war over whether he can ever be a good cat. At the outset, Petey firmly believes that he *is* bad and thus will always be bad, even going so far as to inform Li’l Petey that he, as a clone, must therefore also be bad. Petey’s only interest in the kitten lies in pushing him to embrace this villainish destiny. Li’l Petey, on the other hand, is good to a fault, not only in his actions but in his beliefs. The kitten rejects his Papa’s fixed mindset and maintains hope that Petey can make the right choices in life — even after Petey fails him in so many ways, from abandoning Li’l Petey in a box downtown to gaslighting him into believing he’s a criminal.
Petey’s saga reaches its logical conclusion (though more sequels follow) in Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls, where we learn the source of Petey’s cynical approach to life: he was emotionally abused and abandoned by his own father years ago. Li’l Petey brings Grampa back into their lives in a misguided attempt to heal Petey’s original wounds, but it backfires when Grampa steals everything they own while Petey and Li’l Petey are out helping Dog Man save the world from giant evil robots.
Of course this would break almost any person, not only to have all their belongings stolen, but to be betrayed yet again by a parent whose mistreatment left profound scars that have never healed. Petey, however, is by this time a changed cat. He’s spent five books trying to convince his “son” that the world is a wretched, miserable place, and that bad people (cats) will always be bad, only to be countered by Li’l Petey’s unshakeable faith that he, Petey, can change for the good. Instead of exploding or descending into depression, Petey realizes that his belongings are nothing compared to the affection of his child (clone) and tells Li’l Petey with a smile that they will have so much fun tomorrow that it doesn’t matter that their stuff is gone. As he walks home that night, Petey picks a flower that he previously derided as a weed, puts it into a bottle rescued from a river that he told Li’l Petey was polluted, and slips into the bottle a handful of mud he had once seen as a symbol of filth and decay, now knowing it’s a source of sustenance and life. He looks up at the stars and smiles.