John Travolta has joined Thomas Jane in the cast of The Punisher, the latest actioner from a Marvel Comics character which is being produced by Artisan Pictures and Marvel Studios and sold here by Summit Entertainment.

Travolta will play the lead villain in the film Howard Saint, a man involved in the criminal underworld who has managed to conceal his violent beginnings and become a paragon of society until a darker, vengeful side emerges after his son is brutally slain. Director is Jonathan Hensleigh, whose screenwriting credits include Armageddon, Jumanji and Die Hard With A Vengeance.

Marvel has already scored two $100m hits in the US this year with Daredevil and X2: X-Men United, both with 20th Century Fox. Universal will release another Marvel movie The Hulk in the summer.

Marvel Studios CEO Ari Arad will produce The Punisher alongside Gale Anne Hurd who is also a producer on The Hulk. Principal photography will commence in early July and is scheduled to hit theatres by summer 2004.

Jane plays Frank Castle, a former special forces operative for the FBI whose family is executed as a repercussion from his final undercover assignment and who sets out to punish the murderers.

Travolta has played bad guys before - notably in John Woo's Broken Arrow and Face/Off. Represented by The William Morris Agency, he is currently starring opposite Joaquin Phoenix in Ladder 49 for Buena Vista Pictures.

The Punisher is the first film to emerge from the Artisan/Marvel joint venture struck between Artisan CEO Amir Malin and Arad to develop, produce and distribute Marvel character-based programming in all media with profits generated from each project shared equally after distribution fees are incurred.