(Panini Books)

THE robots have won. Almost everyone you know has been killed in the AI Armageddon, and the world is in ruins. But this is no far-flung future reality. It is today’s Marvel Universe, and the planet’s heroes have lost their last battle against the mad machine Ultron.

Most members of the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and the Avengers are dead, and a rag-tag group of embattled superheroes hides out in the rubble of New York, desperately trying to avoid the patrols of Ultron’s Sentinels which are hunting down human survivors. Their options dwindle with each new day, and even the likes of Captain America are crushed by the inevitability of their imminent destruction.

But slowly the realisation dawns… Ultron is unstoppable, yes, but only now. In the distant past he was little more than an idea for shaping artificial intelligence in the brain of his “father”, Avenger Hank (Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, Wasp) Pym, and if his creation was prevented then this apocalyptic present would cease to exist.

A squad of Avengers use one of Doctor Doom’s time machines to travel into the future and confront Ultron in his lair, while unconvinced that Pym would change his mind about birthing Ultron if given the option, an assassination squad of Wolverine and the bereaved Invisible Woman escape back into the past.

One “snikt” later and Hank is dead, and history unfolds in a completely different direction… Returning to the present day, Logan and Susan Richards find themselves in a drastically altered reality where a war is being fought between magic and technology, a devastating consequence of their actions in the past.

Realising that in killing Hank Pym they have actually doomed the Earth to another horrifying fate, the time travellers have no choice but to return to the past again to try and put things right…

An epic 10-part story from the mind of Brian Michael Bendis, and featuring artwork from the likes of Bryan Hitch, Brandon Peterson, Carlos Pacheco and Joe Quesada, there’s a lot here to take in, and the repercussions of events featured in this series are sure to be felt for a long time to come.

For reasons which have yet to become clear, AU drastically rewrites the previously established rules of time travel in the Marvel Universe, and as a result of which the boundaries between different realities are weakened and broken. Wolverine and the Invisible Woman’s frequent sojourns through history have caused irreparable damage, and we have yet to see the long-term effects of their actions.

AU follows the usual tradition of comics crossovers by pitting the champions of the Marvel Universe against a seemingly invincible foe, whether it is Ultron or the mad witch Morgan le Fey in the new reality created by Pym’s murder, and like many of today’s big screen summer blockbusters there is a sense of style outweighing substance at several points in the proceedings.

Make no mistake, Ultron is not the real threat here, the robot is merely a catalyst for the events which follow, and what we have is a morality lesson about the dangers of meddling in powers beyond your control, whether that be creating artificial life or killing a comrade to protect the future, everything has its consequences. It certainly doesn’t attempt to repeat previous Ultron stories like Kurt Busiek’s Ultron Unlimited or the opening arc of the post-Civil War Mighty Avengers series.

That said, AU delivers in spades as far as entertainment is concerned, and changes which follow in its wake are sure to be interesting. An unmissable chapter in the ongoing story of the Marvel Universe, and a fitting coda to Bendis’ decade-long run on the Avengers.