Those of us entrusted with writing X-MEN:TAS stories only had a couple of weeks to figure out who and what the X-Men were and what they meant to each other and the world. Our bosses wanted 13 half-hour stories sketched out right away. There was no internet. Friends lent me a few old books, but Marvel, edging toward bankruptcy, was 3000 miles away and didn’t have much of a staff to dig through old boxes to ferret out old books that might best reveal the new team’s characters. There were few reprint collections. Fans like Larry Houston, Will Meugniot, and Bob Skir helped with advice, but they had their own jobs to do. Of all things, I found real help at an old-school gaming store, where I picked up a copy of an X-Men “Special Campaign Set.” It had blueprints of the X-Mansion and the Blackbird and detailed histories of the characters. This and a copy of Larry’s “Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Master Edition” helped me quickly learn the complex and sometimes contradictory world of 25 years of X-Men storytelling. Fans know this stuff. They know the rules. Mark and Michael and I couldn’t start building stories until we did as well. Thanks to a table-top game and an encyclopedia, we learned fast.
The two sides of the X-MEN:TAS creative team hadn’t met before the initial meeting on February 17, 1992. Mark Edens and I, leading the writing staff, hadn’t met Will Meugniot and Larry Houston, leading the art and production side. If we didn’t see the series the same way, it would be a long, frustrating, unproductive year. Fox Executives Margaret Loesch and Sidney Iwanter chose to throw us together. The two-part pilot story (“Night of the Sentinels”), which introduced the X-Men’s world (Will’s idea), would be the test. It is easy to talk like you see eye-to-eye on a project, but until something gets written and drawn, you don’t know. As Mark and I and his brother Michael sped through setting up the first 13 half-hour stories, Mark wrote a quick 14-page outline of episodes one & two, the most crucial story we were to write over four years. We spoke with Will and Larry (and Bob Harras at Marvel), trying to learn the X-Men as we wrote. But we really didn’t know how our writing would go over with X-Men experts. As we expected, Will gave us X-Men newcomers a lot of notes on those 14 pages. The good news was that most of them were positive and encouraging, even excited. We wanted to see the same series made. This would prove crucial when, for seven months, many voices wanted us to change the show. But the team hung together. Sidney and Margaret had picked right.
So who wrote the 76 X-MEN:TAS stories and turned them into 40-page scripts and why? Margaret Loesch ordered the series. She and Sidney Iwanter hired me to be in charge of the writing. I hired the Tennessee mafia. That’s what friends and colleagues called me and Mark and Michael Edens (and others). We had been friends since we programmed movies together at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in the mid-70s. We stood up for each other at each other’s weddings. When I, in 1985, got my first writing assignment in Hollywood (along with equally prolific and multi-talented animation writer, another UTK alumnus, John Loy), the first calls I made were to Mark and Michael, telling them that they should get ready to work. Over a thousand produced credits later, somehow we’re still friends. So when I was told to build/develop X-MEN:TAS and get the first 13 stories ready (oh, take a week if you need to), I of course turned to Mark and Michael. We all knew heroic storytelling: in college, we had bonded over Homer, Classic Westerns, and Star Trek. But we didn’t know the X-Men books. We learned fast, relying on mega-fans Will Meugniot (producer/designer), Larry Houston (producer/director), Bob Harras (Marvel editor-in-chief), and Bob Skir (writer) for canon details and wisdom. Though Mark and Michael have writing credit on 20 of the X-MEN:TAS scripts, they had a hand in far more — the majority of the series. Mark, for instance, helped lay out the first 26 stories with me and helped adapt the five-part “Phoenix Saga” from the excellent but not-TV-friendly books (see document cover below) and what was supposed to be the grand finale ( the four-part “Beyond Good and Evil”). If they hadn’t had another series to run and write (Exo-Squad), they would have done more. People in tough jobs tend to hire those they know and trust. I knew and trusted Mark and Michael Edens.
We worked fast. On February 17th I was hired and told that we needed to figure out the show and needed scripts right away. We built the show in a week. Mark Edens started on the hour-long pilot 2-parter, and we had an 80-page script three weeks later — while we were crafting and getting the okay for all 13 stories for the first year (and possibly the only year). Other writers jumped in, then Mark and his brother Michael did a couple more, and before we knew it, we were done. Only one story was a direct adaptation of a comic (“Days of Future Past”). The rest were crafted on by Mark and me using bits and pieces of X-Men comic history, some suggested by artists and writers, much expanded in a hurry, all okayed by Marvel and Fox. Our one priority: focus on the characters. Below is the chart I kept of the progress we made, from day of assignment of a couple-sentence idea, through 10-page outline and 40-page script. There was a mid-season delay, then we pressed on. We finished them all before we saw a frame of finished animation. We just hoped they would look good. Enjoy a bit of production history: