When the August issue of Babytalk made its way out of the womb, its PR godparents couldn't get a copy over to me fast enough. I received a phone call asking me to confirm my address ("yep, 18 Donkey St., 6th Ward of Hell, 90210"), then the magazine arrived via messenger -- so quickly, in fact, that I asked the guy if he'd received a police escort uptown.

You see, the cover of the August issue is "controversial," because it "depicts" a "child" "suckling" upon a "breast," albeit one that appears to be areola-free. Clearly, the best way to get publicity is through transparently self-manufactured faux-controversy. That's why I'm hoping to provoke a blood feud with Dr. Mr. Señor Magazine, Esq., Samir Husni, who's a total doodiehead.

I'll leave the debate over the cover's propriety to the puritans. Me, I take more issue with the fact that Babytalk lacks zip from both a design and content perspective.

The mag boasts a motto ("straight talk for new moms") that its editors ought to paste atop their computer screens and/or changing tables. Why? Because they don't seem to pay a whole lot of attention to it, at least not in the August issue. It's a smart tagline and one that, if adhered to, would go a long way towards differentiating Babytalk from the glut of newbie-parent titles out there.

Instead, the mag presents alarmist headlines, all in lower cases ("do pools spread viruses?"), and decidedly non-revelatory tips (keep the little 'uns away from paper shredders, because they're, like, sharp). Babytalk also gorges itself on quotes from actual mommies, tragically few along the lines of "Junior is quite unexceptional in every way," and offers little beyond descriptive niceties in its "personal shopper" and "good gear" product sections. "Straight talk" would seem to imply some small degree of critical thought, no?

"how to take a power nap" presents the novel notions that would-be sleepers should "avoid caffeine" and "find a quiet place where you feel comfy and calm," as opposed to the front row of a "Miami Vice" matinee. The last-page "laugh it off" bit creates celebrity baby names with the help of a blender, because those names are sooooo random it's like they were blended together; "quickie workouts" soberly instructs mommies in the art of the "squat and shoulder press with baby," last illustrated by Britney Spears and fils in the parking lot of a Santa Monica Starbucks.

Worse, Babytalk attempts to make up in graphic cutesy-cutesiness what it lacks in editorial moxie. In addition to the positively darling lower-case heds, the title has never met a light, rounded font it doesn't like. Other oh-so-precious flourishes include a quick downshift into script on the cover ("really!") and a random "grain of truth" nugget plopped in the middle of an already busy page. The design ADD extends to the cover feature ("why don't women nurse longer?"), the impact of which is diminished by its colors-of-the-rainbow presentation. If there's a tranquilizer gun lying around the office, Babytalk's design staff could use a couple of darts to the neck.

No, I'm not a parent yet, as far as I know (rim shot!), and thus maybe the review of Babytalk should've been pawned off on one of this column's more estrogen-tastic contributors. Alas, when it comes to the delicate art of magazine critiqueryishness, maternal instinct/the lack thereof takes a backseat to knowing how to read. And anybody in possession of the latter skill will see Babytalk for what it is: the parenting category's flimsiest entry.

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