As the Punisher, Marvel Comics' iconic gun-toting vigilante, Thomas Jane squares off against an army of gangsters led by über-baddie John Travolta. But his bloodiest battle is actually happening offscreen, and it can't be won with bullets or hand grenades. That's the showdown between The Punisher and Quentin Tarantino's highly anticipated Kill Bill, Vol. 2 — which both hit theaters today, competing for the same action-hungry audience.

"I'm sure they'll hurt each other at the box office," Jane sighs resignedly. "It's inevitable. But The Punisher will find its audience. It's a niche movie; it doesn't have to make $150 million to be successful. Besides, as a kid, I loved going to the theater and seeing two films I really wanted to see up on the marquee. It's going to be a fantastic weekend for people who love these kinds of movies."

Unlike other actors-turned-superheroes, Jane genuinely can count himself as a lifelong comic-book fan. He also has the collection to prove it. "I grew up with the EC horror comics from the 1950s," he says. "Those were the first books that really drew me into comics. I collected them all and I still do — they're Holy Grails to me."

While he has been offered roles in comic-book films before, he didn't consider any of them seriously until the opportunity to play the Punisher came along. "Frank Castle isn't a superhero," he explains. "He's really the bad boy of the Marvel universe. That was interesting to me." Jane packed on 25 lbs. of muscle to play the part, and spent six months training with Navy SEALs to master the Punisher's superior fighting skills. "It was a very physical part and I approached it in a physical way," he says. "I was also very influenced by silent-film star Buster Keaton. He was an indomitable spirit in a sea of chaos, and that's how I saw this character."

To further research the role, Jane went straight to the comics store and picked up a number of Punisher books, including the popular War Journal and War Zone titles. He also visited several comic-book websites to learn how Punisher fans view the character. "I didn't want to take on the role if I didn't feel I'd be able to provide a valid interpretation," he says. "That said, you can't please everybody. Everyone has their favorite version of the Punisher and you've got to pick one guy and stick him in a movie. So, at the end of the day, I had to please myself. I had to create my own Punisher and [expletive] everybody else." Spoken like a true Punisher fan, indeed.