I don't think I've ever seen a single mention of King not accompanied by the curt and lazy description "the black Maxim." And while there's obviously subject-matter overlap between the two titles--gals, gear, and gizmos--that description isn't entirely accurate: King, for example, largely avoids entertainment content, leaving DVD, music and other reviews to the Entertainment Weeklys and Vibes of the world. So what do you say we attempt to review King without using Maxim, FHM or any other men's title as a reference point? Come on, it'll be fun. I'll bring some pretzels.

Its unabashed booty worship notwithstanding, I'd argue that King boasts a considerably higher IQ and a more refined social/political mission than its detractors would acknowledge. Editor-in-chief Datwon Thomas' "King Pen" (get it?) note talks about citizen-led Katrina relief efforts as well as overseas perceptions of urban America. The sly U.S.-versus-Europe "Face Off" offhandedly notes the former's "orgy-focused advertising market" (hello, Abercrombie & Fitch print ads). Even its A-to-Z "All Things Great About America" feature includes shout-outs to worthy Cs (Clintons) and Fs (freedom of the press).

Of course, that same feature selects "ass" over "agronomy" as its A listing, so we're not entirely out of the woods. That would seem to be King's main obstacle to overcome: the divergence between its rump-shaking friskiness and its subtler cultural awareness. Yes, the title can likely accommodate both personas, but its primary mission should be to make the juxtaposition of the two less jarring.

Though much of the humor in the December King is predictably broad (a way-too-obvious list of "Things Eddie Murphy Can Do as a Bachelor"), the mag can be both witty and sharp-elbowed at once (the "How to Mack" feature helpfully suggests that Angelina Jolie's suitors "act like [they are] one of them dudes who cares about ducks and endangered goats"). Similarly chortleworthy is the "Cover You'll Never See," which highlights Erykah Badu's stern mug and the promise of a Spike Lee critique of Deep Throat.

The "Real Life" cluster of profiles covers an awful lot of ground--everybody/everything from actor Djimon Hounsou to a top NYC-based urban-marketing firm to Detroit Pistons PA announcer John Mason--and does so with surprising dexterity. King also goes against the grain by presenting a legitimately insightful report on penis enlargement (um, not that we're in the market or anything) and a relatively straight-faced evaluation of four entertainment-related business proposals by Cash Money co-CEO Bryan "Baby" Williams.

As for the rest of the issue, well, a quote from one of the cheesecake Q&As tells you all you need to know: "I am blessed to have [ass] and would have it no other way." Don't you just hate it when chesty starlets feel the need to lift lines verbatim from recent Joan Didion interviews? I also question King's attempts at making its fashion spreads more edgy; throwing a few condoms into a panorama of ties, watches and sunglasses feels pretty eighth-grade to me. And no, the adult DVD and "sexy chat" ads at the back of the book don't do a whole lot to affirm the publication's bona fides.

Overall, though, it's worth taking a more in-depth look at King, as the mag's tush-happy covers don't exactly reflect the breadth of its content. It ain't GQ, but it comes a lot closer to capturing a particular lifestyle niche than many of its newsstand peers with similar ambitions.

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