Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Luke Ross & Marcos Martin
While I enjoyed this issue a great deal (especially the Marcos Martin backup), it's difficult to be enthusiastic to what amounts to filler. It's also hard to praise since it's pretty damn hard to mess up a flashback tale like this. All you need to do is reference a few key moments in a character's history, add an origin / character history lesson to the backup and, bam, you've got the standard issue anniversary special. Nothing outright amazing, but also nothing you can technically fault either. It's just sort of there and not much you can criticize or praise other than taking a stance against these types of stories in general.
The first half of the issue was a series of Bucky Barnes birthday flashbacks, which showed him as a young army brat getting in trouble, time with Cap and the Invaders and culminating with a modern day surprise birthday party from the New Avengers team. It's a cute story that has some parts that will make you smile, but you'll instantly forget about it after you finish reading it and never really have a reason or desire to ever go back to it.
The backup story was just a recap of Captain America and Bucky's origins and how the current Captain America series and Bucky's return came about. It's pretty much a cliffnotes Wikipedia entry, but is saved by some remarkable artwork by Marcos Martin. The layouts he used for these pages were outstanding and almost make up for the relatively lowkey retrospect anniversary format they went with.
Verdict - Check It. If you hate these types of issues, it's an Avoid It. If you're unfamiliar with Captain America or the current series or just like these types of stories, it's a Must Read. I didn't hate it, but it wasn't exactly thrilling for a $3.99 price hike just because of the big number 50 on the cover.