In all the hoopla over low-temperature nuclear fusion, I recalled that Dick Tracy had already been here.

That wouldn't be unusual, of course. Dick Tracy, the lantern-jawed law enforcement hero of the comic strip that runs in hundreds of daily newspapers, has always been a little ahead of the game.Tracy had a miniature, two-way wrist TV a long time ago, as well as a magnetic car that held one person and zipped around in the air to help the police catch bad guys.

And, it occurred to this avid reader of the cartoon strip, Tracy once had this to say about fusion: "The nation that controls fusion will control the world."

Well, I wasn't too far off.

Intrigued by the recent fuss over fusion, I called Tribune Media Services, the distributor of Dick Tracy, to find out whether the detective had ever dealt with fusion power. A spokesman there referred me to Max Collins, writer of the strip since 1977, saying, "He knows everything about Dick Tracy."

Collins works in Muscatine, Iowa; the artist is Dick Locher. Both had associations with Chester Gould, the creator of Dick Tracy. Gould died in 1985.

Collins said my inquiry was the first he'd had about fusion power. First, he reminded me that the phrase made semi-famous in the Tracy strip actually was attributable to Diet Smith, Tracy's wealthy industrialist friend. It goes this way: "The nation that controls magnetism will control the universe."

But wait a minute.

Collins did remember, quite well it turned out, that the strip actually had dealt with fusion power almost eight years ago. Collins turned back the clock to October 1981 and the 50th anniversary of the comic strip.

That story line brought back a dozen or so of Tracy's longtime villains. You remember some of them: Flattop, Pruneface, Angeltop, the Mole.

In the story, Diet Smith and his scientists had developed a way to harness nuclear fusion, and Smith built a fusion-powered train that went coast to coast promoting the scientific breakthrough.

In the strip of Oct. 17, 1981, a public relations officer for Diet Smith Atomic Industries told his boss they needed a slogan for fusion power.

Smith suggested: "The nation that controls fusion will control the universe."

P.R. Blitz (I just love the names for characters in Dick Tracy) replied, "No, it's been done."

Indeed it had.

Collins said the strip also had dealt with fusion power in a second story line since he began writing.

"I think it speaks pretty well for Dick Tracy that we were talking about fusion back in October 1981," Collins said.