Quite a lot of the fashionable thinking around equality since the financial crisis has tried to shift the debate from the old opportunity / outcome dichotomy to focus on concentrations of power – perhaps a recognition that the focus on opportunity hasn't ended exorbitant bailouts and bonuses (the redistribution through the tax system implied by aiming for outcome obviously remains beyond the pale). Some of this new rhetoric draws on the republican idea of liberty excavated by Quentin Skinner. I've attended some of Skinner's lectures and have read his work, so it's exciting to see it influencing contemporary debate. The basic idea is that freedom should not be defined as the absence of constraint, a Hobbesian notion that allows for an authoritarian state. Instead it should widened include the absence of the ability of others to constrain you, i.e. freedom from domination by the powerful – a radically republican (as in anti-royalist) idea.
I bring all this up because the idea of concentrations of power is at the heart of Marvel's AvX crossover from a couple of years ago. The Phoenix force is coming back to empower a single mutant X-Man seen by many to be a messiah, with all the apocalyptic implications that would entail. The Avengers manage to cook up an countermeasure that splits the Phoenix force between five X-Men. Sharing this power between them, the Phoenix Five build a "Pax Utopia" on Earth. But power corrupts, and as one of the Five falls, the Phoenix force gets shared between those that remain. And as power becomes more concentrated, those that wield it become ever more authoritarian.
The mini-series ends with the chosen messiah deciding to give up the Phoenix force. Instead it gets shared out. The Phoenix evaporates and re-introduces the X-gene into Earth's population, gone since the events of House of M. This redistribution of power levels the playing field and eliminates the authoritarian Cyclops and his gang.
Funnily enough, this idea of redistribution is also applied to the making of the comic – while two artists handle the pencils throughout, scripting has been divided between Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, Jason Aaron and Jonathan Hickman. The Bendis issues at the start sag quite a bit (the guy has needed a bit of a break for a good long while now), but the rest of the group are some of the hottest properties in comics right now, and the series really picks up steam when they take over and especially when the Phoenix Five are introduced by Hickman.
It's de rigeur to sneer at crossover event comics, and while this by no means reinvents the wheel (echoes of House of M and Civil War abound) I think it's admirable that Marvel still try to pin the pile-up of action set-pieces to a theme that can support the mini-series itself (while of course providing a set-up that can reverberate through the other titles). Bendis's Siege did this quite badly, while Fraction's Fear Itself was a lot more focused. Avengers vs. X-Men continues that good run. A bit like with each consecutive Marvel superhero film, it's still, just, worth investing in what the company are planning for next time.