While adapting the Biblical story of King David might seem a considerable step away from Kyle Baker’s earlier fast-talking tales of late 20th century New York life, his treatment pulls them closer together. The young David has an unshakeable faith in god, and his quick wits and smart mouth ensure his survival until his moment arrives.

Biblical scholars will know the full sequence, but it’s only the story of David and Goliath that’s lodged with the wider world, the theme of the little guy pulling through against all odds still one of eternal hope. It features, but Baker delves back into the wealth of further material about David provided in the Old Testament, beginning with his introduction as a young harpist summoned to play for King Saul. He makes the material more relatable both through changing the dull, archaic language for snappy, joke-filled patter, and via the tremendous illustration.

Telling the story via captions beneath drawing, which sometimes strays into storybook text with illustrations, gives Baker the chance to create one compelling piece of art after another, and some portraits drip with character (and other fluids). They’re richly designed, and even if a couple of early digital painting effects have now dated, the look as a whole is still great, if somewhat muddy in places. An initial Disneyesque cuteness to the young David is deceptive, and soon followed by a fantastic portrait of a monstrously debauched Saul. Baker does fall back on some staged comedy expressions too often (and some rimshot special jokes), but they’re brief asides in what over the first half of King David is a thoroughly engaging narrative. We may know the broad outline of David and Goliath’s contest, but Baker brings through David’s unshakeable faith, and over 22 thrilling pages the conflict is given a new resonance. So is David’s subsequent career as a celebrity, which is what eventually earns King Saul’s enmity.

As King David continues, though, Baker seems to tire of his original approach and there are fewer gags as he sticks more closely to the Biblical narrative. The illustrations remain great, but from just past halfway there just isn’t the same irreverent fun. He doesn’t sugar coat what David eventually becomes, the improprieties and callous behaviour, but is only just getting into that when King David abruptly ends. Much of his time as King remains untold, and the way the ending is staged it’s as if Baker suddenly lost interest. On the other hand, the story runs to 158 pages, not the 104 noted in most listings, and perhaps a second part was intended. The result, though, is compromised. It’s a project that begins phenomenally well, and then consistently tails off, but as used copies can be had for the price of a standard new comic, King David is worth getting for the Goliath sequence alone.