Wednesday

OMW: Hazel Morrel

One of the most Obscure Marvel Women (OMW) of the Original Marvel Universe (OMU) has never even been seen, though she played a pivotal role in the foundation of one of the premiere superhero teams. On the splash page of Uncanny X-Men #6, Professor X thanks Marvel Girl for “helping out on the cook’s day off.” Of course it makes perfect sense that Charles Xavier, being wheelchair-bound and busy with five super-powered teenagers, would need some help with the cooking, cleaning, and laundry. But who was this person? Upon investigation, one obvious candidate presented herself, and so I gave her the most fitting name for my own convenience.

Hazel Morrel

The first fifty years of the life of Hazel Morrel remain shrouded in mystery. She was born sometime around 1910 and eventually married restaurateur Harry Morrel. The couple moved to Westchester County, New York in 1960 and settled in the small town of Salem Center. Harry purchased a run-down tavern at the intersection of Route 126 and Greymalkin Lane, renamed it Harry’s Hideout, and set about rehabilitating its reputation. After only a few months, it had become a popular eatery among the locals, especially with high school and college kids. Still, to make ends meet, Hazel sought employment as a domestic worker and was fortunate enough to find a position just down the road from the Hideout. The reclusive geneticist Charles Xavier hired her to serve as his cook and housekeeper while he pursued his research into human mutation.

On her first day, Hazel found both the sprawling mansion and the extensive grounds had been severely neglected, as the estate had been largely abandoned since 1941 until Professor Xavier again took up residence there three years previously. Furthermore, since Xavier was confined to a wheelchair, whole areas of the mansion, including the entirety of the upper floors, remained closed off. Enjoying the challenge, Hazel threw herself into restoring the 250-year-old estate to its former glory. Busy with his academic pursuits and often away at conferences or lecturing at Columbia University, Xavier gave Hazel a free hand to do as she liked. With Harry’s help, she modernized the kitchen and laundry facilities and made the ground floor a comfortable, livable space again.

Hazel soon met the young subject of one of Xavier’s research projects, a 13-year-old girl named Jean Grey, who paid periodic visits to the mansion. Hazel and Jean immediately hit it off, and Hazel began baking special treats for Jean to snack on following her sessions with the Professor. The following year, Hazel also met one of Xavier’s collaborators, Moira MacTaggert, who visited occasionally from her private research complex in Scotland. Dr. MacTaggert was very appreciative of Hazel’s efforts with the house, and it was clear to Hazel that she cared very deeply for Professor Xavier.

Then, in March 1962, Professor Xavier brought a 16-year-old orphan named Scott Summers to live at the mansion as his ward. Hazel was curious about the dark glasses that Scott wore at all times, but strove to make him feel at home, as it was clear the shy, withdrawn lad had had a difficult life. Soon, however, Xavier invited both Hazel and Harry to lunch with him, where he offered a startling revelation: both he and Scott were mutants, born with superhuman powers and abilities. As more and more mutants were manifesting every year, and because their powers could be very dangerous without the proper training, Xavier had decided to open his home to them as a refuge and a place to learn to use their powers safely, for the benefit of society. Hazel and Harry were very understanding, and Xavier told them he had sensed a lack of prejudice in them and asked if they would support his new mission. They agreed to do what they could.

The next day, Hazel sewed a special yellow-and-black school uniform for Scott, based on Professor Xavier’s sketches. Xavier envisioned the creation of a mutant taskforce similar to “superhero” teams like the Fantastic Four and their World-War-II-era forebears, and so the outfit was designed in that vein. Along with gloves and boots, it included a mask so that his students would be able to operate in public anonymously. Scott’s mask was modified to accommodate the special visor he wore over his eyes to give him greater control over the powerful optic force-blasts he could unleash. Seeing Scott, given the code-name “Cyclops,” practice using his powers was unnerving, even a little frightening, to Hazel, but she took it in stride and did her job.

Two months later, Xavier’s second student came to stay at the mansion, the 14-year-old Bobby Drake. Hazel made him a uniform as well, but, claiming that he never felt cold, Bobby opted to wear only the trunks, belt, and boots. He insisted he did not need a mask, as he could obscure his features by covering himself with snow. Dubbed “Iceman,” he entertained Hazel with his antics, though she had to warn him sternly against leaving ice and snow to melt in the mansion’s rooms and hallways.

In June, her employer officially founded Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, with himself as the only faculty and Hazel as the sole member of the staff. Still, it meant a significant pay raise for Hazel, along with additional benefits. Anticipating more students, Hazel finally opened the upper floors of the mansion, which greatly increased her housekeeping duties. But with business at Harry’s Hideout doing very well, the Morrels now found themselves in more comfortable circumstances.

Over the course of the summer, two more boys joined the school and the fledgling team which Xavier decided to call “The X-Men” – the handsome and well-mannered 16-year-old Warren Worthington III, whose large white wings suggested the code-name “Angel,” and the scholarly Henry McCoy, an 18-year-old college freshman whose superhuman agility and ape-like physique earned him the alias “Beast.” Hazel found all four boys to be delightful and they always treated her with respect.

Finally, as the new school year began in September, Hazel was happy to see Jean Grey, now 15, return to the mansion as a full-time student. Jean was especially appreciative of the uniform Hazel made for her, to wear as “Marvel Girl,” and complemented her skill as a seamstress. Jean also volunteered to help Hazel in the kitchen when her class schedule allowed, as she enjoyed spending time with the matronly housekeeper. Jean was also relieved to be able to use her telekinetic powers openly and not feel like she was keeping secrets from Hazel. They soon grew very close.

Beginning in October, Professor Xavier began sending his X-Men on missions to seek out new mutants as possible recruits for the school and to combat those who used their special powers to menace society. Hazel enjoyed listening to the teenagers talk about their early victories against Magneto in Florida and the Vanisher in Washington, DC. The following month, as the team’s reputation spread, they added tales of meeting other superheroes such as Iron Man and the Human Torch. It was all very exciting. But when a mutant calling himself the Blob rejected the team’s offer of membership and led his carnival cronies in an attack on the mansion, Xavier became concerned about Hazel’s safety. Bravely, Hazel assured him she was just happy she wouldn’t have to worry about feeding the rotund rascal.

In December the tales around the dinner table became even more fantastic, as the students told Hazel of a succession of battles with Magneto and his own team, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants—in Central America, aboard his asteroid headquarters in high orbit, and on a remote island in the Atlantic. They also described meeting the Fantastic Four and the enigmatic Sub-Mariner. However, Hazel soon found she had trouble thinking of her charges as superheroes and worried about them getting into such dangerous situations.

Hazel was relieved when things quieted down a bit over the next several months, as Professor Xavier took an extended vacation to Central Europe, where his students joined him for a week. While he was away, Scott stepped in to keep the others on track with their training regimen. In March 1963, Hazel was thrilled to hear Jean’s firsthand account of Susan Storm’s engagement party, thrown at the Fantastic Four’s downtown Manhattan headquarters. Hazel was aware of the growing love triangle between Jean, Scott, and Warren, and fretted that it could lead to trouble.

At one point, the students took a long trip to Antarctica, where they discovered a lost world beneath the ice called the Savage Land. Then, in the spring, to Hazel’s great relief, the students reported that Magneto had been taken off into outer space by a powerful alien being, causing the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants to disband. But, rather than allowing herself to be overwhelmed by such uncanny occurrences, Hazel focused on more practical matters, like arranging a festive “Sweet Sixteen” party for Jean’s birthday.

In May, Professor Xavier’s concerns for Hazel’s safety grew when the mansion was attacked by his own step-brother, who had spent some of his childhood there before being magically transformed into an unstoppable villain called the Juggernaut. Because she had not been present during the siege, having been at home with Harry, Hazel dismissed the danger and turned her attention to the X-Men’s minor injuries and cleaning up some of the damage. At this point, Harry, too, began to worry, but Hazel was determined to take care of her students and their school.

Neither Hazel nor Jean could contain their excitement come June as the X-Men were invited to the wedding of Susan Storm to Reed Richards. The event proved to be a chaotic one, as Hazel and Harry watched the television coverage from home. Later that night, they tuned in to see Professor Xavier debate the noted anthropologist Bolivar Trask, whose anti-mutant rhetoric had recently stirred up controversy in the media. The couple became worried when the program experienced technical difficulties just after Trask unveiled his mutant-hunting robots, the Sentinels. But when Hazel arrived at the school to make breakfast on Monday morning, she found all was well.

Over the course of that summer, the X-Men enjoyed a series of triumphs over a variety of non-mutant menaces, but they received a shock at the end of August when Jean’s parents decided to send her to a different school for the new academic year. Hazel was particularly upset to see her young friend leave. The X-Men carried on without her, though Jean occasionally visited on weekends, going out of her way to spend time with Hazel. Together, they designed and made new versions of the team uniforms which Jean presented to her friends in November.

Around the same time, a new student enrolled in the school, a brash and abrasive 17-year-old named Calvin Rankin, alias the Mimic, who seemed to cause nothing but trouble from the day he arrived. Put off by his bad attitude, Hazel could only wonder why Professor Xavier tolerated him. However, by the end of December, Rankin’s attitude improved greatly after he singlehandedly defeated a giant green android that had invaded the school’s grounds. The battle caused Rankin to lose his super-powers, however, and so he voluntarily resigned from the team and left the school. Hazel, for one, was not sorry to see him go.

As the new semester started in January 1964, Hazel happily went about her daily routine. The X-Men continued their training and had occasional adventures, frequently joined by Marvel Girl. Meanwhile, Professor Xavier devoted himself to his private research, often disappearing into the basement for long stretches. In February, following the Professor’s suggestion, Jean came to Hazel with a new project: creating a set of individualized costumes for the X-Men. She provided Hazel with numerous design sketches, but they had only gotten started when life at the school took a dark turn. After another battle with the Juggernaut, Professor Xavier was kidnapped by a shadowy organization called Factor Three. In his absence, Hazel managed as best she could. She continued to work on the new costumes as a means to cope with the stress and worry she felt as the weeks dragged on and the X-Men searched for their missing mentor without success.

Throughout March and into April, Hazel was extremely proud of how her young friends handled this crisis, and the dedication and maturity they showed throughout. When the team finally located Factor Three’s stronghold in the Alps but had difficulty raising the cash for plane fare to Europe, Hazel and Harry both felt frustrated that they lacked the funds to help out. Their budget was just too tight. Nevertheless, the X-Men managed to find a wealthy benefactor in New York, and were soon on their way to rescue Professor Xavier. While they were away, Hazel put the finishing touches on their new costumes.

After the Professor’s safe return, Hazel felt things were looking up around the school. The X-Men loved their colorful new outfits, and Xavier seemed pleased with the team’s progress. Jean confided in Hazel that she had finally brought Scott out of his shell and they had begun a serious romantic relationship. Not one to mope, Warren had started dating an old friend, Candy Sothern, while Hank and Bobby continued to have fun with their Greenwich Village girlfriends Vera and Zelda. But then, in May, a sudden change came over Professor Xavier that Hazel was at a loss to understand. Virtually overnight, he became tense, demanding, and short-tempered. Furthermore, she noticed that he seemed to be experiencing memory lapses, often appearing unfamiliar with his own house or struggling to maneuver his wheelchair. Worse, Jean suddenly grew more distant at the same time. Hazel soon became concerned that something was very wrong.

Then, late one night, Hazel received a call at home from Scott, informing her that Professor Xavier was dead, killed in battle with a villain called Grotesk. He also told her that they had learned in the Professor’s last moments that he had been dying of an incurable disease, and this accounted for his recent change in behavior. Hazel was devastated. The next day, she and Harry set about making arrangements for Xavier’s funeral, following the detailed instructions he had left for just such an eventuality. Hazel saw that Jean’s natural grief seemed compounded by extreme stress and she worried that her young friend was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Uncharacteristically, Jean refused to confide in Hazel and instead withdrew further into herself.

After the rain-drenched funeral, the grieving X-Men went after Magneto, recently returned to Earth, for a final showdown while Hazel and Harry contacted Xavier’s attorney to wrap up his personal affairs. Shortly after the team’s return, they were met by Xavier’s contact in the FBI, Special Agent Amos “Fred” Duncan, who had arranged for the attorney, Franklin Nelson of the New York law firm Nelson & Murdock, to read Xavier’s will. At the conclusion of this unhappy event, Duncan ordered the X-Men to disband and relocate, stating that Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters was to be closed down. Hazel was heartbroken as she was given a generous pension and told to go home.

Over the following summer, as some of the X-Men moved to New York City and some went out to San Francisco, Hazel felt an overwhelming sadness every time she passed Xavier’s abandoned mansion. She had come to love the five students as though they were her own children, and now they seemed to have been left to an uncertain future, beyond her power to take care of them. Harry tried his best to cheer her up, but to no avail. Then, in early September 1964, Hazel Morrel suffered a fatal heart attack. She was rushed to the nearby Mid-County Medical Center, where she died.


First and Final Mention: Uncanny X-Men #6


Notes:

We can only speculate as to how Harry Morrel reacted when he learned soon afterwards that Charles Xavier had not died after all. It had actually been the terminally-ill mutant metamorph called the Changeling who was killed by Grotesk, impersonating Xavier while the X-Men’s real mentor withdrew into seclusion to prepare himself to telepathically repel the approaching Z’Nox invasion fleet. Though his intentions were good and his actions justifiable, and the Changeling’s death an unforeseen and unfortunate happenstance, Xavier still put the X-Men and the Morrels through unnecessary grief. Harry continued to run Harry’s Hideout for many years, and was very welcoming to the second and third generations of students at Xavier’s, though there is no indication that he and Charles remained close.

Harry and Hazel Morrel are no relation to San Francisco Police Department Homicide Lieutenant Sabrina “Bree” Morrel or her brother Paul Morrel, captain of the nuclear submarine U.S.S. Alaska. Their father was French and their mother was Japanese, and both were long dead before Harry Morrel’s appearances in Classic X-Men #4 and New Mutants #23.




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