I don't know much about this Marc Ecko fella whose name is slapped on the cover of Complex. I think he has something to do with graffiti or fashion. Was he the guy who battled the NYC police over an outdoor block party of some sort last year? Meh. I'm not feeling very researchy this morning, so feel free to do your own homework and sneak me a peek at it.

Whoever Ecko is, he knows a little something about putting together a magazine. Complex, billed on its cover as "A Marc Ecko Production," has been materializing in my mailbox for about three years now, courtesy of an overzealous publicity staffer. Based on its covers and a cursory flip through its pages, I'd always assumed it was one of those pretentious fashion-first rags that throws itself prostrate on the altars of supposed tastemaking titans like DJ AM and Damon Dash. Turns out that Complex is considerably less complex than that. For all its downtown pretense, the mag more or less comes across as a generic lad mag. In this instance, however, "generic" doesn't mean "weak." While Complex adheres to many of the conventions of the genre -- the cheesecake pix, the flighty Q&As, the three-page limit on stories, the overcaffeinated design -- it does so in a manner both creative and inordinately skillful.

The December 2006/January 2007 issue's "Men of Next Year" co-cover feature (the mag has two -- more on that in a bit) offers longer pieces on the nattily tattooed Travis Barker and Lil' Wayne as well as shorter ones on everyone from Andrew Dice Clay (comeback in '07, baby!) to a high-school hoopster. The editor's letter substitutes the usual treacly self-congratulation for I-like-what-I-do-and-here's-why enthusiasm, plus a "video vixen" critiques colognes in a straightforward, snappy manner mercifully free of buzzwords (my scent-errific three-word review of "Derek Jeter Driven," for anybody who cares: "celebrity ass-water").

Complex can be quite witty, too. Like every mag in the genre, it has the unfortunate habit of occasionally pounding its own chest with true fraternity-twerp gusto: "Late-night vodka cocktails" and "Madden 07" rank among the "10 Things That Made This Issue Possible," while a "dump" recommendation in the "Trend Humper" is illustrated by a dog taking a... well, you know.

That said, the mag buttresses its piece on former "Chappelle's Show" writer Neal Brennan with a clever list of other "notable interracial breakups (Barbara W./Star J., Michael Jackson/himself) and proposes an iPod playlist for Terrell Owens. As part of Young Buck's enormously entertaining "Thug Ethicist" advice column, it presents the following nugget: "If he done some totally disrespectful sh*t, you just go 'head and take the chain, wrap that mu'f*cka around his neck, and treat him like a 10-speed with no brakes." What was the question that merited this response, you ask? Who cares? It made me giggle.

Complex mostly has the service-journalism thing down pat as well. Happily, the travel guide excludes Las Vegas from its list of destinations in favor of somewhat more obscure choices (Medellín, Reykjavik). Its "Laced" look at sneaker culture (reviews aplenty, all presented artfully) and "Hooked Up" fashion coverage (hoodies! a timeline of Stallone style!) similarly duck the obvious subjects and brands.

Organizationally, the December/January issue has a few problems, likely spurred by its joint-cover structure. The mag splits itself in half: after 96 pages, you turn the thing over and get 100 more (or vice versa, come to think of it). I'm not sure I understand the reasoning behind the placement of material in both halves -- why the Web site plugs are separated from the DVD reviews, for example. Part 1 seems more Maxim-ish, but the fashion/service/GQ-y part 2 still includes a Q&A, with co-cover subject Nicole something-or-other from the Pussycat Dolls, that poses the lad-mag staple, "Who's better at sex, ballerinas or strippers?"

It's somewhat of a silly quibble, I know. And truth is, there are about 7,254 conflict-of-interest reasons why I shouldn't have reviewed Complex in the first place (I mistakenly thought it was a fashion mag -- so sue me). I'm glad I did, though, as Mr. EckM (who comes across as a respectably chill dude in a brief he said/she said piece) and his cohorts seem to "get" what guys want in a magazine. With the category shaking out, Complex should thrive in the months ahead. Hop on the bandwagon before it's too late.

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