Inspired by the high transition-metal-ion content in mussel glues, and the cross-linking and mechanical reinforcement effects of some transition-metal ions in mussel threads, high concentrations of nickel(II), cobalt(II), and manganese(II) ions have been purposely introduced into the reaction system for dopamine polymerization. Kinetics studies were conducted for the Ni2+–dopamine system to investigate the polymerization mechanism. The results show that the Ni2+ ions could accelerate the assembly of dopamine oligomers in the polymerization process. Spectroscopic and electron microscopic studies reveal that the Ni2+ ions are chelated with polydopamine (PDA) units, forming homogeneous Ni2+–PDA complexes. This facile one-pot approach is utilized to construct transition-metal-ion–PDA complex thin coatings on graphene oxide, which can be carbonized to produce robust hybrid nanosheets with well-dispersed metallic nickel/metallic cobalt/manganese(II) oxide nanoparticles embedded in PDA-derived thin graphitic carbon layers. The nickel–graphene hybrid prepared by using this approach shows good catalytic properties and recyclability for the reduction of p-nitrophenol.