Good clarification and follow-up questions, Ryan.
I use cast iron because of its heat absorption and emission characteristics. A properly seasoned 100 year old cast iron pan is superior IMO to almost anything on the market on these days. Its heavy weight and thermal mass make precision cooking easier, while its high transfer rate allow you to do things other pans can't do. Like sear a steak and bake a cake. Roast a chicken, deep-fry some shrimp, make stuffed peppers on the grill - even deep dish pizza. I saved that one for last, because once you try a cast-iron deepdish pizza, you'll toss your lightweight pans.
As for what unseasoned cast iron looks like, just find something rusty and look at it. If you use your cast iron every day, it will be midnight black and perfect, and stay that way.
You treasure cookware like this, and try to pass it on to someone who will use it well. That's why I have a bunch of them - they are all inherited from past cooks in the family. You sure can't say that about any of the crap on the market these days.
BTW, when I cook steak in the LBE, I preheat the skillet to 800-850 degrees.