He's 5 feet 4 inches tall, has razor-sharp metal talons growing out of his knuckles, and his flyaway hairdo could give Don King the heebie-jeebies but he's this year's Big Mutant at the Newsstand. We refer, of course, to Wolverine, that sneering, snarling, Canadian-born superhero who has become one of America's hottest-selling comic-book stars and is soon to become a Saturday-morning cartoon idol.
''He's got attitude,'' says Bob Harras, 33, editor of the Wolverine comic books. ''He's got a chip on his shoulder, a berserk nature inside of him that he's always wrestling to control. Kids relate to that. They identify.''
The mutant without a cause made his debut in 1974 as a guest star of the Incredible Hulk. A few years later, Wolvie became a regular in the X-Men, a comic-book series about a group of benevolent but misunderstood mutants like Cyclops (who shoots lasers out of his eyeballs), Archangel (who has wings), and Nightcrawler (who can teleport himself anywhere) who use their special talents to battle bad guys. ''But every time we put Wolverine on an X-Men cover, sales would skyrocket,'' says Harras. "So five years ago we finally decided to give him his own book. He's the only X-Men member with his own series.'' So far, there have been 65 Wolverine comics, and each has sold more than 400,000 copies at $1.75 an issue.
Pretty soon he may be the only X-Man with his own movie: Harras reports that Marvel is considering a live-action film version for 1994 (an X-Men cartoon series is coming to Fox on Oct. 24). Like the comic-book version, a movie of the Wolverine wouldn't be just kid stuff: ''These are stories about racial prejudice, hate crimes,'' says Harras. ''They're stories about an oppressed minority, hated simply because of who they are mutants. And that's key to their success. These stories have meaning.''