Human Defense Corps (DC Comics)

Human Defense Corps

Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game


Human Defense Corps was a 2003 mini-series in the DC Universe. It was intriguing, and it is definitely something that can be of use in a super-hero RPG setting. The HDC could easily be the core conceit for several campaigns.

This organisation profile includes S P O I L E R S about this neat Limited Series. I have not gone into the detail of what occurred during the ops, but the general events are still there. On the other hand it doesn’t cover appearances in the Krypton-centric Superman war events, as they occurred well after this article was written.



The Human Defense Corps is an entirely new branch of the US armed forces, which became operational in 2003. Those fighting forces were largely a reaction to the events of the Invasion .

(The Invasion was in 1988, publication date. But if you assume a ten-to-twelve sliding timescale as per DC’s policy, the ramp-up time for the HDC was likely about three years).

The objective of the HDC was to build up a set of military units able to successfully engage hostile space aliens. The four main assets of the HDC seem to be :

  1. Highly selected volunteers from all branches (including the National Guard and, I assume, the Coast Guard) who are put through a training/selection course that seems modelled after that of the Navy SEALs. For the first few companies, the selection training was less intensive (since it had not been entirely put in place yet). But the only soldiers authorised to join back then were those who had combat experience against alien threats, especially during the Invasion.
  2. Gargantuan budget, with an emphasis on developing cutting edge special purposes weaponry and technological assets. For once, it seems that the money does benefit the grunt on the ground, with a lot of emphasis being given to infantry equipment.
  3. A dedicated, very skilled R&D team with extensive facilities, chiefly based at Port Heath. Those teams have been quite successful in designing and building mission-specific gear, and in training specialist troopers with the tech.
  4. Special-purpose databases, procedures and doctrine being evolved as the units of the HDC gain experience with and intelligence about threats. The chief repository of knowledge is the HALF list (Hostile Alien Life Form).
    This being the military, an unstated goal is also to develop satisfyingly abstruse jargon and three-letter acronyms about what they encounter. Such as designating unkillable demon-possessed corpses as “non-terminal combatants”, or NTCs. The undead are TDEs (Trans-Death Entities), Hell is Transdimensional Interactive Zone Four (T-Zone 4 for short), etc.).


The general culture of the HDC appears to be somewhat similar to that of the Marines. This is not surprising since I’d assume the jarheads would be over-represented among its ranks. And the general combat doctrine of the Corps would be the most applicable base whence to start.


A number of soldiers from other branches were seen, though, including many Army men, some Air Force commandos, etc.. The median age seems to be significantly higher than in the USMC, which also changes the culture.

Only one unit was seen – the First Special Armored Division. It is quite possible that it is the only combat unit that exists so far. The field personnel is slow to recruit (a class of cadets is 40 men after Hell Week, and would presumably retain about 35 or so acceptable recruits at the end of the selection and training process), and there are significant casualties during operations.

The First Armored is of course backed by a number of support personnel. It also seems that it has a dedicated Air Force support unit. The zoomies do not seem to have priority, budget-wise – the fighter planes doing the support were apparently standard F14s.

One of the unit traditions of the HDC was to take cadets to Area 53 after their Hell Week. The troops there would run a surprise POW exercise on the cadets, pretending that they were all controlled by Starro the Conqueror.

The exercise included rubber replicas of the Starro “starfish” parasites over the face of the opfor, and paralysers decorated with rubber props to make them look sufficiently alien and organic. However, a pair of cadets managed not to get captured and caused havoc in one of the research labs. As a result, the exercise was replaced by something else.


Initially, the HDC was focusing on alien threats. In particular it was paranoid about Durlans, since those shape-shifters pose a huge security risk. Yet over the years it became apparent that most of the threats encountered had little to do with outer space. Therefore, doctrine and focus changed to encompass a number of exotic and paranormal threats such as demons and mole people.

Of course, a new three-letters acronym being needed, the HDC started referring to their opposition as NHIs (Non-Human Indigenous). That was to distinguish them from extra-terrestrials.

Colonel Skynner of the Human Defense Corps (DC Comics)

Col. Skynner.

The brass of the HDC seems to actively look for opportunities to engage unknown threats. This is presumably to build up experience as fast as possible, at the cost of extra casualties. They will routinely offer to support allied and neutral countries by taking over a situation within their remit.

Apparently, such offers are usually accepted. A likely reason is that the US HDC probably is the only full-sized unit of its kind in the world. If only because of the monstrous budget necessary to keep it ready, informed and armed.

Key personel

The three identified senior officers of the HDC are Colonel Skynner, Colonel Rosetti and Colonel Fairfield. The three most notable members of the HDC have their own small profile — Corporal Kelly (Ret.), Colonel Rosetti and Chaplain Charlie Graham.

Unlike Rosetti, Colonel Skynner does not take part in the fighting. He seemed to be more of a military intelligence man. Skynner was chiefly concerned with obtaining data, interrogating prisoners and putting recon missions together. He’s very results-oriented and seems intelligent and experienced.

Human Defense Corps soldiers open fire on guerrillas (DC Comics)

One of the most unusual persons on the HDC staff is a gorilla. He’s a biology researcher who lives in the US as a representative of King Solovar of Gorilla City. The scientific ape’s reconstructed genetics makes him immune to most interspecies viruses. Thus, he operates the lab where all the dead non-human specimens owned by the US government are kept, in Area 53.

He has been called Dr. Zaius. I’d assume this is a humorous codename rather than his actual one. For the youngsters, it’s a Planet of the Apes  reference.

For a while a POW demon, Calcabrina, was allowed to operate with the troops, chiefly as a guide and to create interdimensional  gateways. He was implanted with a remote-controlled gelignite charge in the skull to keep him in line.


The HDC gets to pick and select many of the best men in the US military. Beyond the basic stats given above, many of the men can have — in DC Heroes RPG terms — a 04 in one of their Attributes (often MIN or SPI) and/or a 04 instead of a 03 in one of their Skills.

Human Defense Corps soldiers in Hell

They do have access to specialists with 05 APs. For instance the marksmen trained to operate the Long-Range Pulsers often have a 05 in the applicable Weaponry Subskill. Many of the tech guys have a 05 in Gadgetry or in Scientist, the lead interrogators have a 05 in Charisma (Interrogation), the pilots operating a strategic asset such as the High Altitude Carrier have a 05 in Vehicles (Air), etc..

The average Occultist (Occult Knowledge) of the DPS officers is unknown. But given how knowledgeable Chaplain Charlie is it might very well be a 04 – which is pretty solid given the nature of the Subskill.

Early on, the HDC soldiers were out of their depth. Nobody quite knew what they were doing, and they thus suffered from Genre penalties to their HPs spending and inappropriate tactical doctrine. They are now much more proficient and have grown accustomed to the weirdness and danger.

They still would be outmatched by sizeable threats – high-tech alien incursions, parademon armies, big monsters, etc.. But they perform well against less powerful opponents that would be devastating against most militaries.

Their experience give them precious assets :

  1. A surprisingly sharp learning curve.
  2. A high willingness to adapt and change their approach.
  3. A relative lack of brass kibbitzing with their operations for political reasons.


Only a few deployments of the HDC have been observed. The very first operation of this new branch took place in the Bulgarian countryside. The Bulgarian armed forces had requested back-up in dealing with unidentified superhuman creatures controlling a small area near the minor town of Galatz.

This deployment of the young HDC was supposed to be pure recon. Of course, it went quite wrong. A number of Bulgarian civilians and troops were allied with the non-humans and ambushed the troops. Though they were utterly outmatched, they turned the recon into a combat foray. They also killed several Bulgarian soldiers accompanying the Americans.

Though command was expecting Durlans due to its limited understanding of existing threats. But the creatures in Bulgaria were vampire-like demons, who proved devastating for the HDC. The squaddies used thermal vision goggles to patrol in the Bulgarian forest at night, and these made the cold creatures invisible.

The demons ambushed the HDC troops, and nearly a hundred were lost as Easy company was overrun. Reno Rosetti, one of the platoon commanders, was the first officer to realise that they were not fighting Durlans at all. Understanding that the opposing force was made up of some sort of vampires, he had the first “holy napalm” bombs rigged.

Assuming that Easy had been completely slaughtered, they shelled the perimeter with mortar fire and the blessed ordnance. The latter proved very efficient against the opposition. As it turned out one soldier, Montgomery Kelly, had narrowly survived the defeat of Easy and the shelling. Both he and Rosetti were decorated and promoted.

Eight demons were captured and interrogated for several years. This resulted in a treasure trove of useful occult knowledge for the HDC.

Learning the trade

The HDC next repulsed a centaur attack in Turkey. Nothing else is known about this mission, which I assume was politically very tense.

Human Defense Corps soldiers deploy underground (DC Comics)

The next known case of the HDC took place in coordination with British authorities. The UK’s military had established the presence of subterranean hostiles inhabiting a vast underground maze under England. The HDC troops determined that those were called A’corti. But they were usually called “mole people” since they looked like dwarfish humanoid moles.

The HQ for the operation, with full barracks, was built 400 feet under London. The HDC spent months patrolling and securing the enormous labyrinth.

The HDC had a clear technological and professional edge on the mole people. Still, they took a number of casualties and found these tunnel wars difficult. But the operation was generally a success. After the initial learning curve, the matter was handled in a competent and forceful way.

No Man Left Behind

HDC troops, and in particular Corp. Kelly and Col. Rosetti, realised that they were having the exact same nightmares about the troops lost in Bulgaria. Those dreams were determined to be some sort of attempt at communication from an afterlife. As a result, Rosetti ordered a seance (or a 290-J in HDC-speak) to be conducted by Chaplain Graham of the Department of Paranormal Science.

The 290-J established that 66 men lost in Bulgaria were not KIA but POW. They had been deported to an infernal dimension by demons. Apparently the demonic occupation near Galatz was chiefly intended to capture humans and take them to Hell. That was because living souls were considered to be much more valuable than the usual fare.

The HDC decided to launch a combat rescue operation to Hell. This was made possible by one of the captured demons called Calcabrina, who could open a gateway. Four companies went in with specialised training and extra gear. Since it was determined that the atmospheric activity was too difficult to handle, this was chiefly a lightly-armoured infantry operation with no air support.

After a gateway was opened, the fleet of AACs hit the River Styx. An amphibious landing was performed a few clicks away from the peak where the POWs were held according to the collaborating demons. Good progress was made, with no casualties.

Though the damned there could not be killed, they had very little initiative and no understanding of even the most basic tactics. Being jailers and tormentors rather than fighters, they chiefly relied on fear and harassment. As a result, they were outmatched against a modern and determined military force with good intelligence about the local realities.

Human Defense Corps soldier aiming his assault rifle

All the POWs were liberated, and the troops made it back to the extraction point on the River Styx with less than a half-dozen casualties. An unanticipated bonus was that Corp. Kelly, who ever since Bulgaria had had a small quantity of demon blood in his bloodstream, became a sort of demon-kin. This allowed him to take over the rulership of a small area of Hell.

His mentality unaltered, Kelly was put in charge of this small US territory in Hell as a military administrator, and relieved of his conventional duties.

Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG

Tell me more about the game stats

Typical HDC trooper

Dex: 03 Str: 03 Bod: 03 Motivation: Responsibility
Int: 03 Wil: 03 Min: 03 Occupation: Soldier
Inf: 03 Aur: 03 Spi: 03 Resources {or Wealth}: 002
Init: 009 HP: 010

Acrobatics (Climbing): 03, Medicine (First aid): 03, Military science (Camouflage, cartography, demolition): 03, Vehicles (Land): 03, Weaponry (Infantry weapons): 04

Familiarity (Military equipment and protocols ; Known alien, paranormal and non-human threats), Rank (PFC or NCO within the HDC).



Human Defense Corps soldiers being briefed (DC Comics)


Body armour

SEGMENTED BODY ARMOUR [BODY 06, Skin armour: 04, Invulnerability: 05, Limitations : Skin armour and Invulnerability only vs. blades and bullets, Partial coverage (long coat), Drawback: Real armour].

This body armour includes a number of rigid ceramic-backed Kevlar plates, which will normally deflect gunfire from common assault rifles (such as 7.62mmR or 5.56mm) without significant trauma for the trooper. I would assume that there is compact gas mask stored in a pouch somewhere on the webbing.


Heavy Assault Rifle [BODY 04, Projectile weapons: 07, Sharpness (Projectile weapon): 01, Ammo: 12, R#02, Advantage: Autofire]. Those weapons are usually called pulse rifles, but that may be because they are reminiscent of the assault rifles in the movie Aliens rather than an official designation.

They seem to have an ample magazine, and each trooper presumably carries about five extra clips. There is a special brace on the stock which makes firing the weapon one-handed quite viable with proper training. Though large, those weapons are fairly light (likely using special polymers rather than typical gunsmithing alloys) and about as short as your typical bulpup assault rifle, making them excellent close-quarters weapons.

During the operation in Hell, some of the troops were using ordinary (though recent) M4 assault carbines, hinting that there are not enough pulse rifles yet to outfit a full deployment.


Tactical Headset Radio [BODY 02, Radio communications (Encrypted): 06].

Night observation

Night Vision Goggles [BODY 02, Thermal vision: 04, Do Nothing: 02]. The Goggles do not hamper the use of other military optics such as rifle sights, binoculars, etc. This night vision gear was used early on, but turned out to be a major liability since some hostiles do not give off any body heat.

Though it’s not stated, it seems that the HDC troops switched to passive light amplification goggles (presumably with flash filters) as follows: NVGs [BODY 02, Ultra Vision (Night Vision only): 04, Do Nothing: 03]. I would *assume* that doctrine calls for one or two men per squad to still use the Thermal Vision ones (in particular to spot lightly-concealed life forms, shape-changers, etc.), and possibly for some volunteers not to use any vision-amplification equipment (to counter hostiles which do not register on technological sensors).


Colt M1911 variant [BODY 04, Projectile weapon: 04, Ammo: 08, R#02].

This weapon is purely intended as a last-recourse, personal defence weapon. Most troopers carry an extra clip for it, though, since supposedly last-recourse weapons always end up being employed at some point.

Utility tool

Large Serrated Knife [BODY 05, EV 03 (04 w/STR)].

Though practically never used in combat, those have definite utility. While in an infernal dimension, the troops also used OSP  swords to conserve ammo against slow and clumsy hostiles.


ES-2 Pulser [BODY 03, Projectile weapon: 11, Range: 05, Ammo: 06, R#04].

An example of a experimental, expensive weapon occasionally issued to the HDC. Those shoot projectiles that can punch through four inches of armour plating, and may be some kind of magnetic linear acceleration weaponry. Those look like fat, M16-length cannons (though shorter models were also shown), and generally serve as a squad heavy weapon (two per squad) when issued.

Long-Range Pulser [BODY 03, Projectile weapon: 12, Telescopic vision: 05, Ammo: 04, R#03].

A shoulder-fired cannon that seemed to be based on the same technology than the ES-2. The one seen was a long-range semi-automatic weapon with a heavy duty sniping optics suite, which can be employed as something halfway between a sniper rifle and a rocket launcher. Operating one requires specialised training, presumably building up on what is taught at sniper school.

Heavy body armour

EXOSKELETON [/BODY/ 05, Sealed systems: 08, Skin armour: 03, Invulnerability: 06, Radio communications (Encrypted): 06, Ultra Vision: 03, Bonus: Skin Armour also works vs. energy attacks but has Partial Coverage (Long coat), Drawback: Real armour.]

Those are not powered armours – those exos are a segmented hardshell with an environmentally sealed helmet with combat electronics. Those replace the normal body armour for intensive fighting in hazardous environments, such as underground. When a squad is equipped with those, all squad members will wear one.

Though it wasn’t entirely clear, the helmet seemed to also include a video camera that could transmit a video feed via the Radio Communications, and could film through the Ultra Vision Power if desired. Presumably, the exos are very uncomfortable to wear for more than a few hours at a stretch, and they will not be used if the air and local hazards can be navigated without one.


Personal GPS [BODY 02, Area Knowledge (uploaded maps)].

There are apparently several versions of this ; one was seen built into the forearm plating of an EXOSKELETON, since constant access to maps was necessary during that campaign. The GPS includes a beacon that can be picked by radar, in order to locate soldiers in the field. This even worked underground, using powerful X-radar arrays – though some areas remained blind spots due to their geology.

Screamer cages

Those are intended to capture Durlans, and are likely sonic in nature. They were never seen in action.

Wheeled drones

S.A.R.G.E. (Search And Reconnaissance Group Equipment) [STR 01 BODY 02, Radar sense: 06, Running: 04, R#03] and Handheld Console [BODY 01, Eyes of the cat: 08, Limitation: Eyes of the cat only on a S.A.R.G.E., R#03].

Those are basically milspec, all-terrain remote-controlled toy cars equipped with sensors. Each S.A.R.G.E. provides a real-time feed (audio/video/radar) to its remote operator. The trooper operating those recon assets will usually have ten units.

Flying drones

Similar to a S.A.R.G.E., but as classic lightweight, hover-capable aerial drones. Replace Running with Flying: 04]

Less-lethal small arms

Paralyser [BODY 03, Lightning: 07, Ammo: 08, R#03, Limitations: Lightning is Bashing and Diminishing].

Those electrical guns are quite reminiscent of recent M4 assault carbines – they probably use many of the same components. Those weapons were only seen in wargames (with the opfor wearing plating to blunt the impact and electricity-induced cramps), but can presumably also be used in the field.

Piton guns

Big rifles shooting a heavy-duty piton trailing as much climbing rope as needed. The rifle is powerful enough to firmly embed the piton into solid granite at 50 meters.

VCT rig

This speciality equipment was designed and built when an operation called for a long climb over a cliff with no air support. This is a backpack that includes an ammo bin and four guns on articulated arms ; between all four arcs, one gun can always engage something that is not in front of the wearer.

The VCT guns are remotely operated by a gunner via real-time video feed (the backpack trails fibre optic armoured cable connected to the gunner’s console), and were used to shoot down flying hostiles who threatened to attack the climbers.

Likely stats are Projectile weapons: 05, Ammo: 20, Telescopic vision: 01. One climber out of two sported a rig. I’d assume “VCT” meant Video-Controlled Tailgunner, though as long as something has a three-letters acronym we’re already 90% there and the meaning is not very important.

“Holy napalm”

During the HDC’s first encounter with vampires, those weapons were improvised in the field. These are bombs (usually dropped from a F14) containing flame retardant gel mixed with holy water. The effects are similar to being fully immersed in holy water, and the gel is very difficult to get rid of.

Strategic air transport

HIGH ALTITUDE CARRIER [STR 11 BODY (Hardened) 13, Flight: 12, Radar Sense: 19, R#02].

This plane looks like a cross between a space shuttle and a pregnant whale, and is intended for very high-speed travel in the upper layers of the atmosphere. It can carry an infantry company, minus its vehicles and heavy assets. This vehicle is normally used to deploy first response troops on another continent.

Heavy transport ship of the Human Defense Corps (DC Comics)


ARMOURED AMPHIBIOUS CARRIER [STR 12 BODY (Hardened) 11, Flying: 08, Radar Sense: 12, Sonar: 08, Swimming: 06*, Water freedom: 06, Notes: Swimming drops to 04 whilst fully submerged].

AACs look like a military transport airplane welded on top of a giant rigid dinghy. They are powered by a jet engine in the tail, and can operate as fast boats on the surface, or as submarines, or as airplanes – they can literally dive into water from low-speed flight, as illustrated below.

One AAC can carry 20 men plus one or two vehicles (such as APCs), and the HDC has at least 35 AACs. I assume the cargo/passenger bays are modular and can be reconfigured. Outside of operations, they are chiefly used as shuttles to and from Port Heath.

A Human Defense Corps amphibious plane diving in (DC Comics)

Human Defense Corps amphibious planes on the river Styx (DC Comics)

Borer vehicles

These vehicles can quickly drill through solid rock, and deliver bombs through the hole.

The usual stuff

Hummers, APCs, Apache gunships, portable radars, etc. by the dozens. A mainstay of the HDC seems to be AAVs (Armoured Attack Vehicles) – basically a modified Hummer outfitted with a twin-machineguns deck on the roof (Projectile Weapon: 09) and packed with anything up to, but not including, the kitchen sink.

Fort Olympus

A large orbital defence station, capabilities unknown.

Station Midnight

This is a specially-equipped B-17 supersonic transport. Station Midnight flies around the world, and when needed can quickly position itself precisely at midnight solar time (sometimes called “antemeridiem” as a convenient but incorrect shorthand by the zoomies operating it) and stay there as long as it has fuel.

Thus, it can be precisely midnight aboard for hours on end, an important asset for some Paranormal Science endeavours. One of the main problems with Station Midnight is that you can’t use most firearms inside it if things go wrong – it’s still a plane.

The Station Midnight special-purpose occult plane (DC Comics) (Human Defense Corps)

Area 53

The actual name of this base is Port Heath. It lies on the oceanic floor a hundred miles SW from Bermuda. This is a large base, and it holds all the hazardous material and POWs of the HDC. Presumably, it’s the most secure place the HDC has to hold such dangerous resources.

Area 53, the Human Defense Corps' underwater lab (DC Comics)

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Source of Character: DC Universe.

Helper(s): Darci.