DC Comics is changing how comics are perceived, with titles like The Dark Knight Returns paving the way. DC wants to do a series with the Charlton characters they have the rights to. Since, as Jim Valentino pointed out, almost any comic written by a guy who is 1) bald and 2) British usually translates into gold, DC hires Alan Moore, who isn't bald but most definitely is British.
Moore proceeds to write his outline, and DC thinks it is too much for the Charlton characters. Moore has done the old indie standby of deconstructing the superhero (I liked Watchmen, but I didn't read it until long after I started reading comics. By that point, deconstruction of superheroes was old hat to me. Just saying it didn't have the impact on me that it had on fanboys who almost exclusively read Marvel and DC). Moore is told to create new characters to tell the story. He does so, and Watchmen is born.
Moore, whose stock in trade is fantastic figures confined by the real world and what they do about it (Marvelman/Miracleman, V For Vendetta), wrote a story that played against a contemporary backdrop and reasonable limitations. He interspersed the story with asides and flashbacks, hinting at a much broader story than he had room to tell there. Indeed, Moore was telling people for a while he was looking forward to telling more stories with the characters, either filling in the gaps he left or continuing from where he left off. Moore signed a deal with DC where, once the books were out of print, the rights to the Watchmen would revert back to Moore. Everyone figured a year, maybe two, and it would happen.
But during that time, the graphic novel market exploded. Watchmen did fine as a miniseries, but when collected in a trade, it just wouldn't stop selling as people learned of it and bought it for friends to introduce them into the newly maturing comic book medium. DC kept the book in print to this day.
Would Moore have refused the deal if he'd known what was going to happen? Maybe. Maybe not. Moore was still excited about working on more Watchmen stuff until DC got slick. They started making T-shirts and buttons and other merchandise of Watchmen. Moore's deal was to give him a royalty. But DC classified the T-shirts and such as "promotional material" instead of actual merch, which under the terms of the deal, meant Moore got nothing. Not getting the characters back plus getting jobbed out of his cut turned Moore bitter, who, as far as I'm aware, has never worked for a mainstream publisher since.
(Yes, he worked for ABC, which was published by DC, but they weren't owned by DC at the time he signed up, and when they bought ABC, Moore finished his contract, told them to fuck themselves, and jumped. Not quite the same thing.)
There has been back and forth since then, with Moore more or less accepting he will never get the characters and just wanting to distance himself from Watchmen (recent interviews make him sound rather tired of the whole thing), comparing it to a messy divorce. Since then, DC has been subtle but put out feelers for a possible continuation of Watchmen. After all, it's one of their biggest selling properties ever. Talk began when the movie was coming out and interest was high. Then the movie bombed at the box office and talk quieted.
The quiet has ceased.
Although not officially confirmed, DC is moving forward with four Watchmen prequel miniseries. They were apparently planning to do the Big Reveal at Reed's NYCC, but word has exploded across the Twitterverse, so they'll likely bump up the announcement. Smart money says January, because they are apparently still getting their ducks in a row. One name is confirmed -- Andy Kubert is definitely drawing one of them. Darwyn Cooke is rumored to be the line editor, and is running pretty quick. The Canadian Fan Expo recently went down, and Cooke was spotted there incognito, and he took Joe Kubert out to lunch. Prying ears claim the discussion was a Nite Owl miniseries with his son Andy, pitting to original Nite Owl and his successor against some threat (I have to admit, that is some nice symmetry there). Cooke himself is supposedly writing a Comedian miniseries, and Dave Gibbons is involved. He apparently isn't actually working on the books, he's there more as a creative consultant "for this wave". Read into that what you will.
Other names that were rumored last time to be connected to this whole scheme are John Higgins, JG Jones, and J. Michael Straczynski. Oh, God, not JMS. Since he started becoming a big name with Marvel thanks to his run on Spider-Man, he's developed a reputation and has become terrible at making deadlines and walking away from series in the middle of storylines. He's like a Mark Millar who actually knows how to write. Well, sort of. The arc where Superman just walks across the country without using his powers to help anyone was hilariously narcissistic of JMS. Please, DC, if you're really going to do this, pick someone actually focused on telling a story, not showing off how smart and philosophical he is (if he was still alive, although I doubt he would do it because of the circumstances, Steve Gerber would be perfect).
I won't be buying just because Watchmen isn't that big a deal for me. But the Internet has pretty much broken in half. DC is not gambling much, as the 52 relaunch is focused on new readers, not the same old group that probably wouldn't by it anyway. How big a hit will it be?
I'm keen to find out.