The House Always Wins - Heart to Heart

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G.I. Joe: The Cobra Files #9
CobraFiles9 cvrA.jpg
"Does anything last forever? I don't know; maybe we're near the end, so darling, oh..."
"The House Always Wins - Heart to Heart"
Publisher IDW Publishing
First published December 18, 2013
Cover date December 2013
Written by Mike Costa
Art by Antonio Fuso
Inks by Emilio Lecce
Colors by Arianna Florean and Azzura M. Florean
Letters by Shawn Lee
Editor Carlos Guzman
Editorial consultant John Barber

Everything collapses around G.I. Joe's intelligence unit... but will anyone still be standing at the end?


Erika Le Tene — "Chameleon" — and Tomax Paoli have gone through a lot together. In fact, he would say that, outside of his brother Xamot, their relationship is the most significant he has ever had; and though Xamot changed, by the end, Tomax and Chameleon never will. Chameleon assumes that Tomax is there to kill her, but he just wants to talk to her, to make her understand his point of view...

The octanitrocubane wired throughout the Gemini is going to blow, and there's nothing that Clockspring can do about it; when the Joes took over the building, the explosive was deemed too sensitive to remove or defuse, but with Tomax back in control it's armed. While the G.I. Joe techie can't prevent the detonation, however, he can undo Bet's meddling to lock down the building's exits; in five minutes, when he sets off the fire alarm, Lady Jaye will have to evacuate everyone while he keeps the doors open.

Tomax was playing the Joes all along, of course. When he offered the Joes the location of Billy Kessler-Latta, he used back channels to contract Blacklight to assassinate him and Firefly to destroy his headquarters; and though not everything went to plan, Tomax was able to adapt and let things play into his hands regardless... and adapting is a talent that Chameleon also possesses. Chameleon isn't impressed with his monologue or his "we're the same" attitude, and even less so when he brings up how he and his brother were abandoned to the Unione Corse by their mother; she doesn't see how he can expect her to sympathise... but that's not his intention at all. Being sold to the Unione Corse was the best thing that ever happened to him, and gave him the skills he used to succeed; and while Chameleon continues to mock him, he sees through her "faux disaffection", knowing that her own family life is no better than his. After all, why else would she jump at the chance to work with her half-sister, as awful as she is?

Chameleon's response is a revelation: when she defected from Cobra, she told G.I. Joe that Xamot had warned her of an attempt on her life, but that isn't true. What he really whispered to her on the night that she ran was a request: to help him murder Crystal Ball, the Baroness... and Tomax. But the surviving twin has already realised this, and forgiven his brother for it... and forgiven Chameleon, too, for her "betrayals". As he sees it, she is seeking out love that she has never had, unlike him; he came to the Joes because it was useful to him, but Chameleon came because she thought they would have her. He insists, however, that they never trusted her — except maybe Firewall, who is now dead... and it's all because Chameleon played her part perfectly, poisoning everything around her as he knew she does. Chameleon believes he's wasting his time if that is what he came to tell her — she already knows how toxic she is — but that isn't what he came for. Everyone in the building is going to die, including her... unless she goes with Tomax, and works for him again. Tomax stretches out his hand as Chameleon sits there in silence...

Firefly and Bet are heading for the roof when they hear the fire alarm going off, alerting the casino's patrons to exit the building, shepherded by Lady Jaye; Firefly realises that Clockspring must be trying to undo their work, and though the saboteur doesn't much care, Bet goes off to kill him. As Ronin carries Billy out through the fire exit, following her final orders to get him to safety, Flint reaches the rooftop, taking aim at Tomax and ordering him to freeze as he climbs into the waiting helicopter. The two are at a standoff, Tomax — who coldly informs his foe that Chameleon is dead — unwilling to step out of the vehicle and Flint unable to kill the villain without Firefly retaliating and killing him with the helicopter's cannons; but as they wait, Bet confronts Clockspring in his cell, taunting him with the fact that he can't stop the countdown. Clockspring knew all along that he couldn't stop it, though... and so he sped it up instead.

The building shakes under Flint's feet as the detonations go off throughout the building. Tomax orders Firefly to take off, but as they do, Flint leaps from the rooftop and catches hold of the side of the helicopter; Tomax tries to shoot him off, but Flint instead dives from the vehicle, angling his fall and crashing through the window of an upper-floor hotel room across the street. Flint watches in horror at the utterly destroyed Gemini casino; on the ground, Lady Jaye helps civilians away from the devastation, while Ronin and Billy flee in a stolen car.

Tomax sees into Erika's empty heart, he insists, and she can't ever fill it — being one of the "good guys" won't help, because she isn't really one, and they will never accept her; but Tomax accepts her for who she is, and if she goes with him, he won't have to die there. But Chameleon refuses: Tomax embodies everything she rejects, and if she goes with him, she will never earn the redemption she's looking for. "Disappointed" in her, Tomax leaves for the roof.

And not knowing where she will go, Chameleon walks away from Las Vegas for good.

Featured characters[edit]

(Numbers indicate order of appearance.)


"We've been through a lot together, you and I. In a very real way, you've been the most significant relationship I've had, outside of family, of course. Though my brother, Xamot, ultimately became a person I didn't recognise anymore by the end. I admit it. He changed somehow. But you and I. We never change. You're still the same, scared girl trying manfully to keep her head above the water. And me... I'm the one still throwing you the lifeline. The one man who never left you."

Tomax Paoli, emotional manipulator supreme.

"God, but you're the most boring man I've ever met. Anyone with even the faintest heat in their blood would have shot me down before I even knew what was happening."

Flint and Tomax

"Hm. I can't deny that was impressive."

Tomax has a fairly low-key reaction to Flint's death-defying stunt.

"No, Tomax. I'm not going with you. You're vicious and you're evil and you're everything I reject. Maybe I haven't earned what I want, but I won't ever earn it by dishonoring it now. And if I see you again, I will kill you."
"I'm disappointed in you. You won't see me again."

Chameleon rejects Tomax and everything he stands for.


Continuity notes[edit]

  • After discovering Billy's existence in Cobra Command Part 6, Tomax shared that information with the Joes in Cobra vol. 2 #13. As revealed here, he was the mysterious caller contacting Blacklight in that issue, and also sent Firefly to Alexandria, as seen in issue #14.
  • Tomax's plan was screwed up when Firefly and Blacklight almost killed each other by chance, and by the fact that Flint had a second intel source in Major Bludd; both also came from issue #14.
  • Tomax and Xamot being raised by the Unione Corse was first revealed in the 2009 Cobra: Special #1.
  • Chameleon's childhood of parental neglect comes from Cobra: Special #2; that same issue also heavily implied, without stating outright, that the Baroness was her half-sister.
  • Erika fled from her employment in Cobra (as an aide to the Paoli twins) after Xamot whispered something in her ear in Cobra II #3. Turns out it wasn't just a warning like she claimed at the time!

Other notes[edit]

  • This is the last issue of G.I. Joe: The Cobra Files, and the last issue of Mike Costa's Cobra saga for a while. It would eventually get an "epilogue" tying up loose ends just over a year later, in the form of the miniseries Snake Eyes, Agent of Cobra, which revisited the surviving cast of this series as well as its star.

Covers (2)[edit]