January 10, 2019
(++++) HOT DOG (ACTUALLY COLD)
Dog Man #6: Brawl of the Wild. By Dav Pilkey. Graphix/Scholastic. $9.99.
Dav Pilkey’s absurd and often very funny forays into classic literature, reinterpreted through the minds of his fifth-grade alter egos and the adventures of a character with a dog’s head and a man’s body, continue in a book that is actually based (very, very, very loosely) on a book about a dog. That would be Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, which has nothing whatsoever to do with Pilkey’s Brawl of the Wild except that Dog Man gets hitched to a snowgoing dogsled in a couple of scenes and proves his loyalty to the other seven sled dogs in ways that lead to those dogs becoming heroes during a fire that Dog Man eventually puts out through a truly extraordinary amount of vomit.
Classic literature this isn’t. But Pilkey still manages to create graphic novels that are enormously enjoyable even for people who have not read the classics that are their jumping-off point. In fact, it helps not to have read those classics, to lessen the chance that readers will themselves spew copiously when they discover what Pilkey has done. Pilkey’s Dog Man books are ostensibly created by George Beard and Harold Hutchins: they are the fifth-graders who have been reading real classic novels and are thus being inspired to produce new Dog Man adventures. The graphic novels’ coloring is done by Jose Garibaldi, whose form of inspiration is never mentioned but who is to be thanked for making Dog Man’s substantial vomit a not-unpleasant shade of tannish brown rather than something truly disgusting. Garibaldi shows a certain level of restraint in coloring dog poop, too, and that is a good thing, since Pilkey shows no restraint whatsoever in arranging for some of the bad guys in Brawl of the Wild to fall into a hole and have a great deal of the stuff dumped on top of them. But see, they deserve it, which makes everything OK.
It helps to read all six (so far) Dog Man books in order to get the full, um, flavor of Pilkey’s humor, but it is certainly possible to pick up any of them and understand more or less what is going on, since Pilkey has George and Harold provide a synopsis of the story (stories) so far as each new book opens. Brawl of the Wild includes the reappearance of three minuscule bad guys from Lord of the Fleas – not that they were minuscule at first; they were shrunk as part of the climax of that book. Here they are described as “flagitious fleas” (Pilkey enjoys throwing in real-but-little-known words from time to time). The bad guys manage to frame Dog Man for crimes, so he gets thrown in Dog Jail and forced to help pull a sled on which is perched a huge bag of dog poop that the evil warden transports to the local fertilizer factory so he can pocket the money he is paid for the poop. Meanwhile, Dog Man’s sidekick, Li’l Petey – adorable kitten clone of bad-guy cat Petey, who at this point in the series is trying hard to become a good guy – is working with robot buddy 80-HD on trying to prevent his dad from being sad all the time. That isn’t going well, and the little kitten remarks, “At least things can’t get any worse!!!” So of course the very next page of the book starts a chapter called “Things Get Worse!”
Also here are some heroics by heroic reporter Sarah Hatoff and her heroic dog Zuzu, accompanied by heroic “Yolay Caprese, the world’s greatest actress,” who does a great job defeating the charmingly named Booger Breath shortly before everyone gets to watch the première of Dog Man: The Major Motion Picture, a Claymation extravaganza whose Claymation monster/villain comes alive, steps out of the screen, and wreaks a suitable amount of temporary havoc. If all this sounds confusing, that is only because it is confusing. But have no fear: everything works out just fine in the end, especially the underlying theme of the book, which is that Dog Man may be a misfit because he is part dog and part man, but everybody is a misfit in some way or other, so being a misfit is just fine. And that is about as much of a moral as Pilkey provides in Brawl of the Wild – and it is plenty. After all, the Dog Man books are not about morals: they are about – well, they are not really about very much, but they are so much fun and packed with so much humor and silliness and occasional heart that readers are very unlikely to notice the lack of about-ness, or be upset if they do notice it.